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The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Also available from Bloomsbury 

Henri Bergson: Key Writings, edited by 
Keith Ansell Pearson and John O Maoilearca 
Understanding Bergson, Understanding Modernism, edited 
by Paul Ardoin, S. E. Gontarski and Lad Mattison 
I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the 
Mind of Philip K. Dick, Emmanuel Carrde 

The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Henri Bergson and the Fabulations 
of Philip K. Dick 

James Burton 

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Acknowledgements vii 

Abbreviations ix 

Introduction 1 

Philosophy and science fiction 3 

Bergson and Dick at the edge of the known 11 

The ethics of balking 17 

Philip K. Dick studies 21 

Note on terminology 26 

1 Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 29 

Mechanization and the war- instinct 30 

The biological origins of society 35 

Countering the intellect 38 

The morality of violence 43 

Open morality and the misdirection of mechanism 46 

True mysticism: Immanent salvation 50 

An incomplete soteriology 53 

Fabulation for the open 57 

Conclusion 59 

2 Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 61 

Solar Lottery {1972 [1955]) 63 

The World Jones Made (1993b [1956]) 70 

Vulcan’s Hammer (1976c [I960]) 73 

Time Out of Joint (2003c [1959]) 76 

Conclusion: Super- everyman to solar shoe salesman 81 

3 The Empire that Never Ended 85 

A matter of life or (life under the sign of) death 88 

The open and the universal 89 

The life-death chiasmus 91 

The fictitious event 96 

The messianic tension 97 



The remnant and messianic time 99 

The magic of language 102 

Sci-fi: The genre of ‘as not’ 105 

Conclusion: Gnostic politics 107 

4 Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 113 

The fabulation of history 113 

Mechanization and paralysis 118 

Worldly remains 120 

Openings between worlds 124 

The tyranny of the concrete 128 

Objects of salvation 131 

Conclusion: Reality fields 134 

5 How We Became Post- Android 137 

The mechanization of pot-healing 138 

The alien god 141 

The saviour in need 144 

Robot theology 148 

Humans: The cosmic bourgeoisie 151 

Android and theoid 157 

Creative destruction 161 

Conclusion 164 

6 The Reality of Valis 169 

Salvator salvandus 173 

The believer and the sceptic 178 

The pharmakonic god 183 

Reduplicative paramnesia (time becomes space) 186 

The fabulative cure 191 

Recursion: Valis as limitlessly iterative soteriology 195 

Befriending god 197 

Conclusion 201 

Epilogue: Soter-ecologies 205 

Notes 212 

Bibliography 220 

Index 231 


The researching and writing of this book took place in several different 
contexts. Part of the final manuscript was produced during a fellowship at the 
Ruhr University, Bochum, generously funded by the Alexander von Humboldt 
Foundation. I am grateful to the Institute for Media Studies at Bochum, and in 
particular Erich Hdrl and Maren Mayer-Schwieger, for providing great intel- 
lectual stimulation within a supportive working environment, and for helping 
me find time to work on this manuscript alongside other projects. The patient 
support and feedback of Leila Whitley was invaluable during this phase of the 

The book’s main argument, along with earlier versions of several sections, 
was central to a doctoral thesis researched and produced at Goldsmiths, 
University of London, between 2003 and 2008. During that time I benefited 
greatly from the supervision and support of Scott Lash and Howard Caygill, 
each of whom made the extraordinary range of his intellectual and intuitive 
knowledge of cultural theory and philosophy available to me throughout (and 
has done since). I am also grateful to John Hutnyk for his comments on a late 
draft of that text, and to Andrew Benjamin and Josh Cohen for their careful 
engagement with the final version. Within the already vibrant interdisciplinary 
research community at Goldsmiths, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by 
an exceptional group of fellow students and staff, who provided endless oppor- 
tunities for stimulating and open-minded discussion on a limitless range of 
topics: among many others, I would especially like to thank Laura Cull, Sean 
McKeown, Joel McKim, Theresa Mikuriya (to whom I am also indebted for 
generous feedback on several drafts), Susan Schuppli, Craig Smith, Daisy Tam, 
and everyone in the Contemporary Thought seminars. 

Though too late to have any substantial effect on the text, a series of inspiring 
encounters and presentations in late 2012 at the Philip K. Dick Lestival (San 
Lrancisco) and the ‘Worlds Out of Joint’ conference (Dortmund) - with, 
among others, Dilara Bilgisel, Erik Davis, Alexander Dunst, Daniel Gilbert, 
David Gill, Ted Hand, Pamela Jackson, Roger Luckhurst, Laurence Rickels, 
Lord Running-Clam (aka David Hyde) and Stefan Schlensag - offered much 



encouragement for the completion of my own project and the future of Philip 
K. Dick studies in general. 

I am also indebted to the following for a range of contributions, some 
tangible, some intangible, some recent, some going a long way back: Jay Basu, 
Pete De Bolla, Laura Burton, D. F. Chang, Deirdre Daly, Robin Durie, Geoff 
Gilbert, James Gitsham, David Kleijwegt, Yari Lanci, Chris Manasseh, Joe 
McKee, Leo Mellor, John O Maoilearca (then Mullarkey), Sebastian Olma, Ian 
Patterson, Michael Williams, Tom Wills, David Wright and Nicky Zeeman. 

Finally, this book would never have been completed without the constant 
love and support (and patience) of my parents, Janice and Gil. 


Where a work is cited for the first time in a chapter, the first date given is the 
edition used or cited, followed by the date of the work’s original publication, if 
different, in square brackets; thereafter only the date of the edition consulted is 
given. Certain frequently cited works are abbreviated as follows: 

CE Bergson, Henri (1998), Creative Evolution (Toronto: Dover 
Publications) [1907] 

MR Bergson, Henri (1977), The Two Sources of Morality and Religion 
(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press) [1932] 

TR Agamben, Giorgio (2005), The Time That Remains: A Commentary 
on the Letter to the Romans (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press) 
[ 2000 ] 

SP Badiou, Alain (2003), Saint Paul: The Foundations of Universalism 
(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press) [1997] 

E Dick, Philip (2011), The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (New York: 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan 

Where there are multiple references to a single novel, only the page number of 
the cited edition is given, except where this might lead to confusion. 


In his Histories, Herodotus tells of a battle interrupted - and a war ended - by 
what we would now think of as a natural event. The conflict between the Lydians 
and the Medes had been ongoing for more than five years, with neither side able 
to establish a decisive dominance. Then, during a battle in the sixth year, 

the day suddenly turned into night. The lonians received a prediction of this 
eclipse from Thales of Miletus, who had determined that this was the year in 
which an eclipse would occur. The Lydians and the Medes, however, were aston- 
ished when they saw the onset of night during the day. They stopped fighting, 
and both sides became eager to have peace. (Herodotus 2007: 44-5 [1.74]) 

Why should a sudden, though short-lived, inversion of day and night be 
mirrored by the inversion of war and peace? It is not too hard to imagine how 
the unexpected descent of a shadow across the battlefield might have given rise 
to a spontaneous ceasefire. Even today, an eclipse will cause people to stop what 
they are doing. But in this case, Herodotus tells us, there was no resumption of 
normal activity when the sun re-emerged: instead, everything was different, and 
the two warring sides, having made peace, entered a lasting alliance. 

Whether we consider Herodotus an inquiring historian or a storyteller, this 
account seems to invite us to speculate, to experiment with ways of filling in 
the absent details, just as Walter Benjamin responded to Herodotus’ account 
of the grief of Psammenitus in ‘The Storyteller’ (1999: 89-90). How was this 
astronomical event able to have such a lasting effect on human affairs? Were 
the Lydians and the Medes already weary of the conflict, simply waiting for a 
legitimate pause in the fighting to open negotiations? Or did the turning of day 
into night have a more dramatic effect, being taken as the literal or symbolic 
herald of the end of the world - whose onset abated only when the fighting 
ceased? Or might the merging of the sun and the moon, two entities appearing 
equal in power and size, have been interpreted as a sign that the two equally 
matched peoples should align themselves into a single, superior force? 

Missing from such speculations is the significance of the fact that Thales 
had predicted the eclipse. Does Herodotus include this merely as a tangential 
historical detail, to add context and corroboration to the main story? Or, 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

conversely, might it have played a more active role in the alchemical transmu- 
tation of war into peace? Herodotus seems to imply that the soldiers might have 
reacted differently had they, like the lonians, been forewarned of the eclipse. 
But what if they were astonished precisely because news of the prediction 
had reached them? The idea of being able to anticipate the occurrence of an 
eclipse based on natural observations was not established as it is today: indeed, 
Thales’ reputed pioneering ability in such areas is among the reasons many 
have regarded him as the founder of Western philosophy - and some as the 
first scientist. Yet in that he was extrapolating from his contemporary scientific 
knowledge to tell of strange future events, in an era in which accurate predic- 
tions of this kind were virtually unknown, it would be tempting to add to these 
accolades the title of first science fiction storyteller. 

I would like to posit the idea - somewhat outlandish perhaps, though no 
more so than foretelling the irruption of night within the day - that the account 
of an unheard-of, unbelievable event, whose status subsequently shifted, all of a 
sudden, from the realm of impossibility to reality with its first-hand experience, 
might have changed everything. Suddenly the impossible appeared possible, 
as the astronomical and the mundane spheres merged, and the most unlikely, 
ridiculous ideas about the future became realistic options. The boundaries 
between the fictional and the real, between war and peace, friend and enemy, 
dissolved as easily as the circular outlines of the sun and moon. 

In fact, there is no first philosopher, no first scientist, though both philosophy 
and science, like (and perhaps through) storytelling, may have a new beginning 
at any moment. I chose to begin with an account of an eclipse not only because 
of its resonance with a series of other syzygies which appear in the course of 
this study and throughout Dick’s work, but because it suggests to me, in an 
oblique yet compelling manner, a particular power of fictionalizing, of imaging 
or narrating the impossible, which is able to put an end to violence and warfare. 
My telescoped view of the eclipse is the product of pure speculation - in fact, 
it has been suggested that it was impossible for Thales to have predicted a solar 
eclipse based on the resources available to him, and that Herodotus may have 
misinterpreted reports of a lunar eclipse that possibly interrupted a night battle 
(Worthen 1997). Yet if my version of the story seems tenuous and far-fetched, 
this only serves to underscore how weak this power of fictionalizing is, how 
easily it may turn against and undermine itself, and thus how much care is 
required in both its examination and its application. 



Philosophy and science fiction 

This strange zone of the eclipse, in which the impossible and the possible 
begin to blur, or to reveal their secret affinity, and to point towards formerly 
unthinkable changes in human behaviour, such as a turning away from violence, 
may also serve poetically as an image of the meeting-point of the two central 
figures in this book, Henri Bergson and Philip K. Dick. One a philosopher, the 
other a writer of science fiction, as we superimpose each upon the other, like 
the sun and the moon during the eclipse, it becomes increasingly hard to see 
which is which. 

Despite belonging to very different historical and cultural milieux, Bergson 
and Dick can each be seen to engage with the possibility of salvation - from 
violence, war and the mechanization of life - through the power of fictional- 
izing, or fabulation. Although this book is primarily concerned with their 
specific approaches to the problem of what I will term an immanent soteriology 
- that is, the search for a form of salvation that would be adequate for a post- 
industrialized, globalized society - their shared concern with the relationship 
between mechanization, salvation and fabulation is one that resonates with 
a number of strands in both philosophy and science fiction more generally. 
According to at least some ways of understanding philosophy and science 
fiction, there is a certain kind of experience and activity in which they may 
be said to share an origin - albeit an origin that can only be registered as a 
repeated, originating occurrence, rather than one that is historical and singular. 
It is thus worth exploring this activity a little at the outset, both as a means of 
highlighting the ways in which this book is and is not concerned with the (or a) 
philosophy of science fiction, and as the basic ground of the fabulative activity 
that I will posit as the heart of the soteriological enterprises of both Bergson 
and Dick. 

The relationship between philosophy and science fiction has received an 
increasing amount of attention over the past three decades. Several monographs 
and edited collections are now available on the topic, some aimed at an 
academic and some at a more general readership, many seemingly intended to 
supplement the teaching of philosophy, and to a lesser extent science fiction. ‘ 
Such texts frequently suggest or imply that science fiction makes philosophical 
ideas more accessible. Their increasing proliferation can also be taken as one 
indicator among others of the erosion, to a large degree, of formerly strong 
boundaries between the academic and popular spheres, at least with regard to 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

areas of culture such as literature, media and philosophy, and the overcoming of 
certain prejudices regarding the intellectual value of science fiction, along with 
a relative easing of the genre’s traditional inferiority complex. These trends are 
also reflected in the appearance, increasingly over the past decade, of a number 
of publications dealing with philosophy and particular works or figures from 
popular culture, many of which focus on science fiction. Blackwell’s ‘Philosophy 
and Pop Culture’ series, for example, has titles dealing with philosophy and 
Batman, Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) and Inception (2010), while Open 
Court’s equivalent series includes volumes on philosophy and The Matrix 
(1999), Doctor Who and the Star Wars films, not to mention Philip K. Dick. 

Whether for the purposes of marketing, pedagogy or research, such publica- 
tions all suggest that there is value in bringing philosophy and science fiction 
together. What remains ambiguous is whether, as is sometimes implied, this 
value derives from the fact that each is able to supplement the other with 
something it has generally tended to lack; or whether it reflects a greater affinity 
between them, whereby despite surface differences, they share many basic activ- 
ities, qualities and functions. It is the latter possibility that I want to pursue here. 
Drawing connections between philosophy and science fiction as conventionally, 
professionally understood, clearly can have the effect of giving colourful and 
lively illustration to long-standing philosophical questions and debates (which 
are often inaccessibly expressed in the philosophical vernacular), while simul- 
taneously according to science fiction a level of academic respect which it 
struggled to attract through much of the twentieth century: yet we should not 
allow this to eclipse the less obvious, but potentially very illuminating ways 
in which key aspects of philosophical activity and science fiction storytelling 
might already be intertwined. I hope to give here a sense of why the strangest 
aspect of the relationship between philosophy and science fiction might lie not 
in their coming together, but in the idea of their easy separation. 

At first glance, philosophy and science fiction may seem like two quite 
different creatures. A common general view is that (Western) philosophy dates 
back at least to the sixth century bce, if not earlier, while science fiction is 
generally perceived as a predominantly modern phenomenon. Such concep- 
tions, even when implicit or treated as according with common sense, can be 
seen as based on what we might call cultural-historical or sociological determi- 
nations. They more or less identify the emergence of a phenomenon with the 
entry into cultural usage of the name by which it has come to be known, that 
is, with the moment it began to be treated as having a specific cultural identity. 
Thales has often been viewed as the first Western philosopher because he is the 



earliest figure referred to as a philosopher by those whose contemporaries had 
come to view them as philosophers, such as Aristotle and his followers. In a 
parallel manner, many consider science fiction to have appeared only when the 
term entered common usage in the 1920s, when Hugo Gernsback employed it 
(initially in the variant ‘scientifiction’) to describe the stories published in his 
journals Modern Electrics and Amazing Stories, paving the way for its recog- 
nition by publishers as a discrete genre. ^ As with philosophy, such a conception 
allows the ‘origins’ of science fiction to be located a generation or two earlier, in 
the writers whose work figures like Gernsback were citing (and indeed repub- 
lishing) as pioneering science fiction (H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan 
Poe and others).^ 

However, many have argued that science fiction long pre-dates its 
nineteenth- and twentieth-century forms, a notion which, once entertained, 
immediately diminishes the apparent historical gap between the respective 
origins of philosophy and science fiction. In fact, many of the texts cited 
as early works of science fiction turn out either to be overtly philosophical 
works or to have a strong philosophical dimension. When in 1752 Voltaire 
published an account of a visit to Earth by an alien from a planet in the Sirius 
star system, he referred to it as a ‘philosophical story’ [histoire philosophique]. 
While Brian Aldiss (1973) maintains that science fiction begins with Mary 
Shelley’s Frankenstein, in the heart of the Romantic movement, Darko Suvin has 
prominently advocated a much older, pre-modern literary tradition of science 
fiction affiliated with the long history of writing on utopia (Suvin 1979), from 
Plato’s Republic to works by Thomas More, Jonathan Swift and many other 
pre-nineteenth-century authors. 

Alternatively, on the basis of Steve Clark’s (1995) surprisingly compelling 
argument that immortality is the most definitive theme of science fiction, 
possible candidates for the earliest work might be found among the pre-Socratic 
philosophers, with Pythagoras precluded only by the lack of any extant material; 
perhaps Xenophanes’ parodic ‘story’ of Pythagoras’ belief that a howling 
dog contained the soul of an old friend would qualify, as having a narrative 
structure (however compact) and as the first overt reference to Pythagorean 
metempsychosis (Lesher 1992: 78). Or we might look yet further back, towards 
explorations of the theme of immortality in much earlier mythological sources, 
notably the Gilgamesh epic, with its hero’s quest to find the secret of eternal life 
possessed by the legendary Ut-napishtim. There are also non-thematic defini- 
tions which would equally seem to produce an overlap between philosophy and 
science fiction. Eor example, Alexandra Aldridge’s definition of science fiction 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

as fiction which represents a cosmic point of view’ where ‘individual experience 
recedes into the background’ (1983: 16), would seem to offer grounds for 
locating any philosophical text which deals poetically with cosmology, such 
as Lucretius’ first-century bce De Rerum Natura, within the bounds of science 

It seems one can make a case with at least some merits for finding science 
fiction virtually anywhere one can find records of storytelling. Nevertheless, the 
common-sense or sociological view of science fiction as a modern phenomenon 
remains culturally dominant. It is worth taking a closer look at the presumptions 
on which this view is based. It seems that, at the core of this established common 
understanding is the idea that science fiction has an essential relationship to 
modern science and technology - whether this is understood in terms of its 
historical conditions of emergence, as discussed by Roger Luckhurst (2005: 
15-29 and passim) and others, or in terms of the prescriptions and expecta- 
tions of its founding and formative figures. Hugo Gernsback, mentioned above, 
one of the most instrumental figures in shaping US science fiction as a modern 
genre through his efforts as a pioneering editor, critic and author, promoted 
the binding of science fiction to modern science. As Gary Westfahl observes, 
Gernsback was explicit that in ‘the process of writing science fiction, scientific 
knowledge comes first’, and indeed that ‘science fiction must include scientific 
writing (perhaps even taken from a textbook)’ (1998: 42; original italics). 
William Wilson, who coined the term ‘science-fiction’ in the mid-nineteenth 
century (though apparently with little direct influence on the genre’s subsequent 
emergence) had expressed a similar sentiment: ‘Science-Fiction, in which the 
revealed truths of Science may be given interwoven with a pleasing story which 
may itself be poetical and true - thus circulating a knowledge of the Poetry 
of Science, clothed in a garb of the Poetry of Life’ (Wilson 1851: 139-40). 
Meanwhile, the figure generally cited as the most influential science fiction 
editor following Gernsback, John W. Gampbell, also emphasized the scien- 
tific dimension, suggesting that the aim of science fiction was ‘to predict the 
future on the basis of known facts, culled largely from present-day laboratories’ 
(quoted in Westfahl 1998: 181).'* 

Whether or not one accepts such prescriptions, it is hard to avoid the fact 
that science fiction as a modern genre arose within the socio-cultural context 
of the rise of modern industrial science and technology. However, we should 
remember that the modern conception of science itself evolved partly as a 
continuation of, and partly by distinguishing itself from what was previously 
termed ‘natural philosophy’. The astronomer Johannes Kepler, in writing an 



account of a trip to the moon, titled Somnium (1634), ‘(a) Dream’, distinguished 
his text from utopian fiction by stating that his intention was to ‘remain in the 
pleasant, fresh green fields of philosophy’ (quoted in Christianson 1976). 

Broadly speaking, natural science distinguishes itself by narrowing the 
scope of natural philosophy through the exclusion of what it takes as its ‘unsci- 
entific’ or ‘unnatural’ aspects. Central to these developments, as detailed by 
twentieth-century historians and philosophers of science such as Edwin Burtt 
(2003 [1924]) and Alexandre Koyre (2008 [1957]), is the movement away 
from a view of the world as composed of substances and qualities towards an 
atomistic and mechanical worldview, in which mathematical and logical expla- 
nations are paramount. As this new outlook progressively becomes dominant, 
anything which is considered beyond its scope - that is, beyond nature - is 
discounted. Thus both God and the human soul, previously granted unprob- 
lematic metaphysical (literally super-natural) status, must, if they are to remain 
meaningful scientific entities worthy of discussion, either be naturalized, or 
abandoned (Burtt 2003: 300-2 and passim). 

As post-Enlightenment science re-imagines and purifies its own history, 
it elides the fact that what have become its central principles, methods and 
concerns were not regarded as incompatible with so-called supernatural or 
metaphysical spheres of interest by those responsible for their formulation and 
development. Isaac Newton’s interest in not only alchemy but religious prophecy 
and revelation, which has only recently become widely appreciated, would be 
a good example.^ Indeed, as Paolo Rossi has argued, the supposedly defining 
characteristics of modern science as it emerged between the Renaissance and the 
Enlightenment - the rise of deductive reasoning, scepticism, and a mechanical 
approach to nature - emerged alongside an equally influential ‘complex nexus 
of themes connecting the cabala, ideographic writing, the discovery of “real 
characters”, the art of memory, the image of the “tree of the sciences”, “mathesis”, 
universal languages, “method” (understood as a miraculous key to the universe 
and a general science)’ (2000: xvii). Only later would such areas be exorcized 
from the emerging model of science, along with ‘the foolish, superstitious and 
impious pursuits of astrology, magic and alchemy - relics of medieval darkness, 
feebly persisting in the age of new science’ (Rossi 2000: xvi). Kepler’s Somnium, 
in combining technical details of lunar astronomy and scientifically informed 
speculations about the physical conditions of space travel, with a story of 
witchcraft and demons, would be a good illustration of Rossi’s suggestion that 
pre-Enlightenment science had not yet - at least not universally - realized any 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

strong split between a supposedly natural or materialist approach and what 
would subsequently be considered supernatural and metaphysical themes. 

One way of characterizing this shift would be to suggest that modern science 
in its emergence (while still bound to philosophy) attempts to suppress or 
eliminate from its own constitution all those elements of the study of nature 
that from a (post-)Enlightenment perspective would be associated, overtly 
or not, with the fictional - with that which, though it may be speculatively 
described and discussed, is banned from inclusion in the real. Both rationalism 
and empiricism, whose rise in their modern forms can be said to be the two 
crucial driving forces in developing the dominance of this perspective, attempt 
to discern and specify the limits of knowledge, developing principles by which 
to separate the known and the knowable from what cannot be known. Anything 
discussed or considered in past or subsequent discourse which does not belong 
within the sphere of the knowable so defined, thus implicitly or explicitly 
acquires the status of what is commonly termed fiction: the contents of dreams, 
superstition, rumour, fancy and much of religion (though not yet God) are 
gradually relegated to this inferior, denigrated realm on the wrong side of the 
real, where they are increasingly viewed as not deserving of serious intellectual 

If modern science emerges in part by distancing itself from the fictional and 
from philosophy, this process is itself only enabled by a form of (hi)storytelling. 
Similar stories have been widely told of the way ancient philosophy emerged 
from mythological thinking. We have already seen that Thales’ ability to predict 
eclipses, among other achievements, subsequently earned him the title of first 
philosopher, on the basis that those predictions were the result of rational and 
empirical investigations, using geometry, astronomical observation and logical 
reasoning. For those who celebrate these aspects of Thales’ approach, not least 
Bertrand Russell (2004: 15), philosophy emerges when it becomes, effectively, 
scientific, eschewing formerly dominant mythological and superstitious ways of 
explaining and relating to the natural world. 

A particularly influential version of this view of the emergence of philosophy 
as a shift from mythological to (proto-)scientific thinking was given by F. M. 
Cornford in From Religion to Philosophy (1957). As Drew Hyland has noted, 
Cornford’s account presents a movement from ‘a basically emotional reaction 
to a set of issues to a more rational reaction to essentially the same issues’ - a 
movement whereby an older, non-rational approach is replaced by one of 
rationalist materialism (1973: 18). Hyland highlights several weaknesses in 
Cornford’s position - not only in that it seems to ignore the extensive and often 



constitutive role played by mythology and storytelling throughout philosophy’s 
history from (at least) Plato onwards, but also in that it implies an understanding 
of philosophy that would have to be located in human nature generally, rather 
than any cultural-historical moment, while still wanting to present philosophy 
as beginning (for the first time) with Thales and the pre-Socratic thinkers (1973: 

These two parallel views of the origins of ancient philosophy and modern 
science give two particular images of science and philosophy, based on the way 
they distance themselves from fiction. Recognizing this allows us to acknowledge 
the possibility of other images or conceptions of both that, in contrast, would 
bear a strong affinity with more or less the same category of the fictional. That 
is, this suppression or abolition of the fictional, which is the corollary of certain 
kinds of attempt to delineate what is known and knowable, may only occur in 
response to other ways of ‘knowing’ in which so-called fictional elements may 
be regarded as playing an essential part. 

An often-cited conception of philosophy which would seem to allow a 
constitutive role for something other than the rational, found in both Aristotle 
and Plato, suggests that philosophy begins (wherever and however many times 
it begins) with an experience of wonder: 

It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philoso- 
phize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual 
progression raising questions about the greater matters too, e.g. about the 
changes of the moon and of the sun, about the stars and the origin of the 
universe. (Aristotle 1933: 13; Metaphysics I.ii: 9) 

Hyland (1973: 16) sets this Aristotelian notion of wonder as the non-historical 
origin of philosophy in direct opposition to the historicizing position (epito- 
mized by Cornford) that philosophy begins at a certain time in ancient Greece. 
The word Aristotle uses for wonder is thaumazein, which gives its root to the 
word thaumaturgy, referring to the working of miracles or wonders by a saint - 
and which might equally serve as another alternative description of the activity 
of science fiction, a ‘working with the miraculous’. Might it not be argued that 
this sense of wonder, in that it gives rise to speculation and narration about what 
may be, is the source of a kind of science fiction as much as it is of philosophy? 
In both contexts, a momentary glimpse of the possibihty of the impossible casts 
a different light - or shadow - over the whole of reality, over what is taken as 
known. Is Plato’s prisoner not a science fiction storyteller when he returns to 
the cave and begins to tell of the wondrous world he has seen - tales which, to 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

his former cohabitants, seem fantastical and ridiculous? It does not seem too 
far-fetched to suggest that, whenever someone is inspired to begin telling stories 
about the hitherto unknown in contrast to the known, they enter the realm of 
science fiction, in an etymological sense if nothing else, that is, in the sense of 
fictionalizing knowledge (scientia). 

There are modern counterparts to the classical sense of wonder as an inspi- 
ration for philosophizing. Kant seems to allude to the Aristotelian account 
of this experience when he concludes the Critique of Practical Reason (1997 
[1788]) with a now famous reference to the amazement or awe generated by 
reflecting on the ‘starry heavens’. This awe inspires Kant to contemplate ‘a 
countless multitude of worlds’ that ‘as it were annihilates my importance as 
an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with a 
vital force (one knows not how) must give back to the planet (a mere speck 
in the universe) the matter from whence it came’ (1997: 133). Following his 
monumental Critique of Pure Reason (1978 [1781/87]), arguably the work most 
responsible for establishing the modern faith in the power and scope of reason, 
and the capacity of the rational human mind to comprehend the universe, here 
Kant suggests that this power of reason is itself dependent on an experience of 
the human’s own cosmic insignificance. This anticipates his extension of the 
concept of the sublime in Critique of Judgement (1973 [1790]), where it comes 
to stand for the mind’s experience of being faced with magnitudes and powers 
beyond its ability for comprehension or imagination.*’ The figure responsible for 
the Copernican Revolution that established a heliocentrism of the reasoning 
human, here reduces that same human figure to the level of the least significance 
by viewing it from a cosmic perspective. The human as the sun around which 
the world rotates, is eclipsed. Day becomes night and night becomes day, and 
for a brief moment, the illuminated realm of knowledge and the infinite dark 
expanse of the unknown give the impression of changing places. 

It does not require much imagination to see how easily an experience of 
wonder may have been fostered by the key facets of the emergence of modern 
science, which even as it appeared to cast aside questions of transcendence and 
the imagination, in taking up Kant’s cosmic perspective, exposed the figure of 
the human to the near-inconceivability of an infinite world. As Paolo Rossi 
neatly summarizes. 

Men in Hooke’s times had a past of six thousand years; those of Kant’s times 

were conscious of a past of millions of years. The difference lies not only 

between living at the center or at the margins of the universe, but also between 



living in a present relatively close to the origins (and having at hand, what is 
more, a text that narrates the entire history of the world) or living instead in 
a present behind which stretches the ‘dark abyss’ (the term is BufFon’s) of an 
almost infinite time. (1984: lx) 

Considered from this perspective, a notion of science or philosophy without 
wonder, and without the capacity for fictionalizing, whether this means the 
explicit use of examples from myth or literature, or the constitutive role played 
by the thought of the unreal or unknown in theory, prediction and experimen- 
tation, would seem far stranger than the notion of a study of reality or nature 
which employs forms of fictionalizing. 

What is salient in all this for the relationship between philosophy and science 
fiction, as well as for the affiliation between Bergson and Dick to which we will 
now turn, is the possibility that what come to appear, from a certain kind of 
scientific perspective, as modes of thought associated with knowledge, ration- 
ality and the real on the one hand, and the irrational and the fictional on the 
other, might at some other level, or at some other time, be or have been quite 
compatible, indeed, mutually conducive. In this light, it may make sense to 
consider the modern historical phenomenon of science fiction not as a bridge 
between two quite unconnected spheres - scientific rationalistism and the 
experience of wonder, the known and the unknown - but, rather, as the partial 
re(dis)covery of a far older and more fundamental relationship between them. 

Bergson and Dick at the edge of the known 

More than an archaeology, more than a genealogy, Bergson’s anti-Platonism is 
an astronomy that looks for other forms of life. 

(Lawlor 2003: 111) 

In the ‘Avant-propos’ to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze avows that a book 
of philosophy should be part a crime thriller, and in part ‘a kind of science 
fiction’ (1994 [1968]: xx). Manola Antonioli (1999) provides a number of 
valuable insights into the significance of this comment in a text subtitled, ‘on 
philosophy as science fiction. With Deleuze, Antonioli suggests, ‘one is before 
all else in the domain of fiction, one is in a possible world and not in the repre- 
sentation of the world “such as it is” or as it should be’ (15).^ Where the attempt 
to represent necessarily constitutes a deliberate reduction of the real, which may 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

be considered a positive addition only in the limited sense of constructing a new 
object-text, science fiction makes additions of a qualitatively different order, 
supplying other possible worlds, multiplying the world itself This description 
could equally be used to characterize that which makes Dick’s science fiction 
philosophical. Antonioli suggests that 

philosophy is also close to science-fiction in that one can write only about that 
which one knows badly, ‘at the edge of his knowledge’ [a lapointe de son savoir], 
just as the science fiction writer always writes from the scientific knowledge 
of the present in the direction of a knowledge that we do not yet possess, or 
from this world in the direction of worlds that are possible but as yet unknown. 
(1999: 16) 

Bergson and Dick can each in his own way be said to be writing ‘at the edge of 
his knowledge’ - where accepted reality, that which is taken as known, begins to 
break down, or simply reaches its limits: for both writers, although in different 
modes, one arrives at this point through the recognition of the artificiality of 
the conventional view of the world (the view provided by both science and 
everyday intellectual experience). Both collapse conventional notions of reality, 
and struggle with the consequences, the task of understanding what is beyond 
the artificial. Dick’s characters, on breaking through one false version of reality, 
frequently find themselves lost in another, and only through prolonged striving 
against these artificial views may they occasionally - possibly - have a glimpse 
or a hint of underlying truth or reality. Likewise, the grasping of the processual, 
dynamic nature of time and matter described by Bergson requires a great effort 
of intuition, since all the exigencies of everyday social and physical human life 
work to push it aside. One of Dick’s favourite pieces of philosophical termi- 
nology was the distinction between idios kosmos and koinos kosmos, Greek 
terms used by Heraclitus to differentiate between private and shared worlds 
(Dick 1995a [1965]; E: 243). In making the distinction, Herachtus suggested 
that the waking share one common world while the sleeping turn away from 
this to worlds of their own: Bergson likewise, in writing about the nature of 
mind, theorized that in waking life memories tend to be oriented towards the 
exigencies of a shared social reality, with the unique, private aspects of our 
mental lives being filtered out, only to return while sleeping and dreaming, 
when ‘the darkened images come forward into the full light’ (1988 [1896]): 85). 
Both Dick and Bergson are deeply concerned with the way these two spheres of 
human existence function and dysfunction, how and why the shared reality of 
the koinos kosmos may emerge from so many idioi kosmoi that are in themselves 



mutually incompatible - and what different views of reality may be acquired on 
moving between them, or beyond the distinction. 

Dick suggested in an interview that many science fiction writers, like himself, 
started off with a scientific desire for knowledge, yet coupled with a desire to 
speculate, to transcend the limits of the known and enter the imaginary realms 
that are generally prohibited for the scientist: 

It is first of all the true scientific curiosity, in fact, true wondering, dreaming 
curiosity in general, that motivates us [science fiction writers], plus a desire to 
fill in the missing pieces in the most startling or unusual way. To add to what 
is actually there, the concrete reality [...] my own ‘glimpse’ of another world. 
(Dick 1995b [1974]: 73) 

While Dick’s movement at or beyond the limits of the known immediately takes 
him into the realm of fiction and speculation, it would be difficult to maintain 
that with Bergson we are in the realm of fiction to the extent Antonioli regards 
this as true of Deleuze. Nevertheless, there are moments of fictionalizing in 
Bergson’s philosophy that play a central role in its development, as Deleuze 
himself attested (1988: 25). Matter and Memory, for instance, begins neither 
with propositions nor questions about the nature of the world, but with a kind 
of story - an imagined scene depicting a universe of images surrounding the 
particular image of a body, which Bergson plays with freely: ‘In this image I 
cut asunder, in thought, all the afferent nerves of the cerebro-spinal system 
[...] A few cuts with the scalpel [...]’ (1988 [1896]): 21). Various concepts in 
Bergson could be interrogated as to the degree to which they involve fiction, 
or the extent to which they depend on a fictive mode in order to be adequately 
thought - among them, his notions of the virtual, of pure perception and pure 
memory. Yet we would not even need to delve into such examples to recognize 
that in challenging the scientific common sense of his era, such as confidence 
in the mechanistic nature of the material world and of biological evolution (the 
understanding epitomized by the work of Herbert Spencer, which Bergson 
himself had embraced in his youth), or the notion that memories are physically 
stored in the brain, Bergson can already be said to have been attempting to think 
‘at the edge of (his) knowledge’. 

To an extent, the relationship between Bergson and Dick explored here can 
itself be considered something fabulated. Another way Antonioli develops the 
notion of philosophy as science fiction is by suggesting that Deleuze develops 
a kind of ‘fictive genealogy’ of philosophy, which receives its ‘coherence from 
elsewhere’ - that is, from Deleuze’s own reworking and interrelating of his 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

chosen thinkers’ work in non-obvious ways. For the little ‘fictive genealogy’ I 
construct here between Bergson and Dick, the question of direct intellectual 
influence or affiliation is relatively inconsequential. There are some indications 
of direct historical connection, though they are subtle enough that one might 
do better to view them as resulting from an affinity between two thinkers, rather 
than indicating a strongly formative influence. For example, Dick mentions 
briefly in a late interview that as a student he read Bergson and Whitehead and 
became ‘well grounded in process philosophy’ (Bertrand 1995 [1980]: 46), and 
there are numerous references to both philosophers in the Exegesis - although 
generally as shorthand for a broadly conceived process ontology on which Dick 
does not elaborate. There are also many possible intellectual intermediaries, such 
as James Joyce, or Carl Jung, who could be seen as indirect channels by which 
some Bergsonian influence might have reached Dick’s thought.® Nevertheless, 
it is the strong parallels rather than the weak historical connections between 
Bergson and Dick that form the basis for their consideration together here. 

One important element that Bergson and Dick have in common is their 
refusal of any clear separation between materialism and spiritualism, or to use 
an opposition that has had much currency in European philosophy over the past 
few decades, between immanence and transcendence. This refusal manifests in 
various forms across the work of both thinkers, though is ultimately embedded 
in what for each amounts to an integrated relationship between ontology and 
ethics (a relationship which in turn, almost inevitably, grows to encompass a 
range of other dimensions of human thought and the thought of the human, 
such as psychology, epistemology and sociology). What often appears as 
dualistic thinking in both thinkers may in fact be understood as an unwill- 
ingness to choose between what for many others constitute binary alternatives 
between which it is relatively easy to decide. This is reflected in the ways the 
reception of each has been significantly shaped by a perceived contamination of 
the immanent or materialist aspects of their work by transcendental or mystical 
elements. In Bergson’s case, this perception is evident in Deleuze’s attempt to 
recuperate his thought for a philosophy of immanence, which played a decisive 
role in the still relatively recent revival of interest in Bergson, yet at the same 
time initiated a tendency to sideline his late work. The Two Sources of Morality 
and Religion (1977 [1932]): the subject-matter of Two Sources is mentioned 
only in the final two pages of Deleuze’s Bergsonism (1991[1996]), with the title 
appearing only in a footnote. As Guerlac writes, 

it is as if, in Le bergsonisme (1966), Deleuze had carefully edited out all those 

features of Bergson’s thought that might appear “metaphysical” (the soul, life, 



value, memory choice), all those features that distinguish the human being from 
the machine, that suggest an appeal to experience and a phenomenological 
perspective. (2006: 179-80) 

The mid-century decline of interest in Bergson’s philosophy, following his 
immense popularity at the turn of the century which culminated in his 1927 
Nobel Prize (awarded in 1928) had largely resulted from the criticism of perceived 
metaphysical and irrational aspects of his thought, leading to his dismissal by 
influential early twentieth-century philosophers such as Bertrand Russell (1912). 
It is thus perhaps unsurprising that Deleuze, in attempting to reinstate Bergson as 
an important modern philosopher, would have been tentative in approaching a 
Bergsonian text dealing with religion and mysticism that appeared some twenty- 
flve years after the works on which his philosophical reputation had originally 
been established. Though the task of restoring Bergson to the status of a major 
modern philosopher seems now to have been achieved, thanks to attentive 
readings of his work and its context by dedicated philosophers in France (Deleuze 
1991 [1966]; Cariou 1976, 1990; Worms 1997) and the United Kingdom (Moore 
1996; Mullarkey 1999; Pearson 2002; Lawlor 2003), Two Sources has continued 
to be relatively marginalized. Such marginalization is especially visible in works 
which have attempted to develop the socio- cultural and political dimensions of 
Bergson’s philosophy which has been used to engage with a range of areas of 
contemporary cultural theory and practice, including new media art (Hansen 
2004), architecture (Kwinter 2002), politics and theories of affect (Adamson 
2002; Massumi 2002; Grosz 2004), psychoanalysis (Campbell 2006) and the 
philosophy of science (Gunter 1969; Capek 1971; Prigogine and Stengers 1984; 
Pearson 2002). Two Sources, Bergson’s most directly ethical and arguably political 
work, which is concerned with the origins and nature of human culture and 
society figures significantly in none of these texts.^ While this imbalance is less 
prevalent in more strictly philosophical engagements (major recent Anglophone 
studies such as Mullarkey (1999) and Lawlor (2003) pay detailed attention to 
Two Sources and its ethics in their reconstructions of Bergson’s thought), even 
within philosophy Maher and Memory and Creative Evolution (1998 [1907]) have 
received far more attention than Bergson’s final work. 

The efforts to elaborate a Bergson that would fit the prerequisites of 
a philosophy of immanence and a materialist politics have a parallel in 
the academic reception of Dick’s work. Much early critical interest in Dick 
approached his work from a Marxist perspective, valuing his perceived critiques 
of capitalist society yet found less value in his later work on the basis of its 
increasingly religious dimension. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

The apparent causes of Dick’s increased interest in religion were the events 
he experienced in February and March 1974, which he subsequently referred to 
using the shorthand cipher 2-3-74. A series of intense encounters with a godlike 
entity that he would come to refer to as Valis (among many other names), left 
him feeling irrevocably transformed: ‘There have been more changes in me and 
more changes in my life [ . . . ] than in all the years before’ (Dick 1 99 1 a: 4) . These 
encounters took on a mind-boggling array of different forms, from the beam of 
pink light delivering information directly into his brain, to the visions of ancient 
Rome superimposed on twentieth- century California. For an extended period 
he believed he was sharing his mind with someone else, who he sometimes 
saw as a form of the same entity that he believed had contacted him through 
the pink light, and sometimes identified as another mind or spirit, theorizing 
at different times that it was an oppressed early Christian living in the time of 
Saint Paul, his recently deceased friend Bishop Jim Pike, Sophia the goddess 
of Wisdom, the Renaissance scholar Erasmus and the Greek god Dionysos.'” 
From 2-3-74 until the end of his life in 1982, Dick’s work was dominated by 
the attempt to understand these experiences, most explicitly in the pages of the 
journal he referred to as his ‘Exegesis’, and the late novel VALIS (1991d [1981]). 

It would be tempting to think that 2-3-74 marked a religious turn in Dick’s 
life and works, and some critics (notably Jameson 2005: 363) have gestured 
towards the separation of his later works from his previous writing as a distinct 
‘religious cycle’. Yet the approach I take here suggests that Dick’s visionary experi- 
ences and his attempts to understand them may be considered a continuation 
of a quest for an adequate notion of salvation that can be traced throughout his 
work, and which culminates in the fabulations of Valis the entity, and the novel 
VALIS, as well as the Exegesis, as elaborated in the final chapter of this book. 

Dick himself had averred, in 1966, that ‘religion ought never to show up in 
SE except from a sociological basis’ and denigrated his own novel The Three 
Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (2003b [1964]) for this reason (1995: 58)" - antici- 
pating Suvin’s attempts to exclude all religious themes from science fiction 
(Suvin, 1979: 26).'^ The disparity between this statement and the frequency 
with which gods, saviours and other quasi-divine figures do appear in his work 
(even, as we will see, in the 1950s, long before the events of 2-3-74) may be 
taken as indicative of the strange combination of a need for salvation and the 
dissatisfaction with transcendent solutions that runs throughout Dick’s oeuvre. 
My reading here is oriented by this disparity, which fuels a search for a notion 
of salvation that would address the fundamentally immanent exigencies of 
modern life. 



What sometimes seems to have been neglected by those readers and critics 
of both Bergson and Dick who want to maintain the viability of their work for 
a philosophy of immanence or materialism and the critique of capitalism is that 
Bergson and Dick largely share these concerns: if this is not always obvious, it is 
because they have unconventional views regarding what is and is not compatible 
with these interests. Though Bergson, in Two Sources, discerned a continuing 
ethical and political role for a form of mysticism in modern human culture, he 
was centrally concerned with how the salient features of this mysticism may 
have arisen within the immanent biological development of the human, and 
the ways they could be used (or redirected) in order to target the very material 
effects of mechanization manifest in global warfare and exploitation. The trans- 
formation which is required, according to Bergson’s account, to overcome the 
critical threats of mechanization in the modern era, is virtually impossible to 
conceive or address without some element or intimation of transcendence. 
Yet the question of how to match this requirement with the exigencies of an 
immanent worldview, one in which, for example, it is not deemed an effective 
strategy to depend on divine intervention, can be seen as one of the central 
problems of Two Sources. In a parallel though not identical manner, Dick’s 
search for salvation was fuelled, I will suggest, by an irreducible need for 
an experience of transcendence or revelation that would make sense of the 
bafflingly cruel and inexplicable universe in which he found himself; yet this 
need was coupled with an equally deep-seated desire for verification, resulting 
in an extreme refusal to accept that anything was necessarily as it appeared to 
be. It is on the basis of this shared search for a salvation that would be in some 
sense transcendent, while at the same time able to fulfil the pragmatic, worldly 
function of overcoming material, social, political and psychological crises, that 
I view both Bergson and Dick as engaged in the work of immanent soteriology. 

The ethics of balking 

The shared element that perhaps most encapsulates the soteriological (and 
ethical) affinity between Dick and Bergson is their resistance to what Bergson 
calls mechanization. As elaborated in some detail in the following chapter, 
Bergson’s use of this term to refer to the socio-historical rise of industrialization 
and modern technology can be understood as drawing on a much broader 
range of ethical and ontological associations, revolving around notions of the 
restriction of freedom, creativity and life, and their reduction to the status of the 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

mechanical or non-living. The same combination is implicit in Dick’s concern 
with what he sometimes refers to as ‘androidization’: ‘Becoming what I call [...] 
an android, means [...] to allow oneself to become a means, or to be pounded 
down, manipulated [...] Androidization requires obedience. And, most of all, 
predictability (1995c: 191). As for Bergson’s mechanization, the technological 
or industrial face of androidization reveals in Dick’s writing a deep affinity with 
a range of forces that tend to reduce life to the status of the material or mecha- 
nistic across different registers, from the physical (entropy) to the political 
(empire and law) to the metaphysical (death, non-existence). 

Another Dickian figure in which this range of associations is embedded, 
again marking a seemingly fundamental indistinction between ethics and 
ontology, is the ‘Black Iron Prison’. This term was a kind of shorthand for 
Dick’s experience of the Roman Empire as infusing his contemporary world. 
This first took the form of a literal hallucinatory or mystical experience of a 
superimposed alternative reality, but Dick subsequently developed the broader 
conceptual, political and soteriological implications of the vision in the Exegesis 
and the novel VALIS, where he summarizes it as follows: 

during the interval in which he had experienced the two-world superimpo- 
sition, he had seen not only California, USA, of the year 1974 but also ancient 
Rome, he had discerned within the superimposition of a Gestalt shared by both 
space-time continua, their common element: the Black Iron Prison. This is what 
the dream referred to as ‘the Empire.’ He knew it because, upon seeing the Black 
Iron Prison, he had recognized it. Everyone dwelt in it without realizing it. The 
Black Iron Prison was their world. (48) 

The symbolism of the Black Iron Prison is both ancient and modern, recalling 
on the one hand the Iron Age and the advanced military technology of Rome, 
and on the other the machines and metallurgy of modern industrialization. 
In terms of modernity, in its capacity for imprisoning people while remaining 
invisible to them, it resembles Marx’s alienation and commodity fetishism, and 
Foucault’s panoptic society. It also seems to echo Weber’s ‘iron cage’ [stahlartes 
Gehduse] or ‘shell as hard as steel’ (Baehr 2001); the Orwellian-Kafkaesque 
integration of oppressive surveillance and dysfunctional but soul-crushingly 
incomprehensible bureaucracy is found in many of Dick’s novels. For now we 
need only note that Dick, like Bergson, draws no strict boundaries between all 
these different kinds of mechanization - and that it is from this range of effects 
or processes that humanity requires saving. 

Critical engagements with Dick’s work have often focused on the two themes 



that he repeatedly acknowledged as his fundamental concerns: the human and 
the real. In the notion of androidization these two themes converge in a manner 
that is influentially prefigured in one of the most famous passages of Saint Paul. 
Dick frequently refers to the glass, darkly’ passage from 1 Corinthians when 
referring to the illusory veil that occludes reality: ‘For now we see through a glass, 
darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as 
also I am known’ (1 Cor. 13.12, KJV).'^ Yet this statement appears within a longer 
discussion of the importance of caritas, for which the chapter is equally well 
known: ‘And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and 
all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and 
have not charity, I am nothing’ (1 Cor. 13.2, KJV). Or, as Dick once paraphrased 
it, ‘if I have not love then I am jack shit’ (Dick, in Apel 1987: 35). It is in this 
property of caritas, or love, empathy, charity, that Dick locates the human, making 
this quality its only essential definition. Paul’s intertwined comments on love 
and the obscured nature of the reality we perceive are frequently cited as though 
belonging to separate discussions, just as Dick’s core questions ‘what is reality?’ 
and ‘what is human?’, though recognized as related, are often viewed as two 
separate concerns. Paul’s suggestion that we can know the world and its future 
only ‘in part’, and that everything fades except love, corresponds to the underlying 
continuity between ethics and ontology that is found in Dick (and, though differ- 
ently expressed, in Bergson): the only permanent, enduring aspect of reality, as 
well as the only characteristic of the human that does not fad, is caritas. 

The struggle to make the perceived, temporary state of reality, and the 
outlook and behaviour of any given human, correspond to this unfailing form, 
however, is another matter. There is an underlying affinity between Dick’s 
relative satisfaction with caritas as the defining characteristic of the human, and 
his dissatisfaction with (or distrust of) any given appearance or explanation of 
the nature of reality. The confusion and horror that can be generated by what 
Umberto Rossi (2011) terms the ‘ontological uncertainty’ expressed in Dick’s 
novels have parallels in his dismay at the extent to which so-called humans can 
fail to demonstrate the caritas that supposedly defines them - that is, the ease 
with which they are ‘androidized’, able to act mechanically with regard to the 
lives of others. This is stated particularly effectively in an interview in which 
Dick recalls early on in his writing career reading some German SS files in a 
University of California (Berkeley) archive: 

the SS wrote to all the firms in Germany which had built ovens to make bread, 

and informed them that they wanted to build ovens to burn up human bodies, 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

and what were the bids on this project, like any commercial project. They got 
competitive bids. Not one firm wrote back and said, ‘We don’t build ovens to 
burn bodies. [...]’ 

It simply cannot be that such is the case and yet indeed it was the case. They 
actually - Jesus! - bid for that contract. I find this to be the most extraordinary 
thing I have ever heard. (Rickman 1988a; 143) 

The firms’ readiness to bid for the contracts is not simply immoral or 
condemnable - in Dick’s eyes, it is impossible; it ‘simply cannot be’. The imper- 
sonal, machinic reaction to the business-like invitation for bids characterizes 
androidization as the absolute opposite of caritas. Here the essence of mechani- 
zation is highlighted in the way the tendency to treat other humans as machines 
or things, and the tendency to become mechanical, thing-like, are mutually 
enhancing. McKee refers to a similar statement by Dick in which the Holocaust 
is invoked as the ultimate outcome of a mechanizing process ‘in which the value 
of other human beings is disregarded’ (McKee 2004: 17). Here again, the devalu- 
ation of the other comes about in tandem with a process by which those who are 
mechanizing others (in this case, concentration camp prisoners participating 
in the bureaucratic organization of daily extermination) themselves become 
mechanical instruments. 

Dick often uses a particular word to describe the moment when someone 
resists the imperative or pressure of androidization - that is, refuses to respond 
mechanically to a mechanical (android, inhuman) demand: balking. To ‘balk’ 
against a pressure to become mechanizing is a refusal of the world in which this 
pressure arises: an act of ethical or political resistance is always likely to become 
an act of ontological resistance; in this case the effect is either to reveal apparent 
reality as a fake, or to posit it as such in contrast to an alternative world whose 
germinal or microcosmic form is the act of balking itself In the Exegesis, Dick 

[Balking] is a refusal to cooperate with a harmful world, which, once one has 
balked against it, reveals its ersatz quality. [...] It is probably of extraordinary 
significance that repudiation of the mundane reality and acknowledgement of 
the transmundane is a single event or act, rather than two. The two realities 
cannot both exist, evidently. They are counter-realities. (E: 271) 

The act of balking, of resisting or hesitating before the pressure to become an 
instrument of mechanization, already implies, for Dick, at least incipiently, the 
capacity to conceive of a world other than the mundane reality before one’s 
eyes. To produce a counter-reality in the face of one whose existence one simply 



cannot accept, is, as we will see in the following chapter, the basic function of 
Bergsonian fabulation. 

Philip K. Dick studies 

I have already touched on some of the dominant concerns of existing critical 
engagements with Dick’s work, yet it is worth giving a little further indication of 
where this study situates itself in relation to past and present Dick scholarship. 
From its relatively marginal status in the late 1970s and 1980s, as the pursuit of 
a small but dedicated assortment of researchers and fans, the study of Dick’s life 
and work has gradually over the past decade begun to take on the appearance of 
an international research field. The journal Science Fiction Studies (founded in 
1973) has paid consistent attention to Dick’s writing since the 1970s, dedicating 
two special issues to his work (in 1975 and 1988). As noted above, several of 
the more influential early readings of Dick in SFS were produced by thinkers 
working within a broadly (or narrowly) Marxist framework, such as Darko 
Suvin, Fredric Jameson and Peter Fitting. The emphasis such scholars placed 
on reading Dick’s work as a critique of capitalism was formative for the devel- 
opment of academic interest in his work in Europe (and France in particular), 
where the praise of Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem (1986; 1992 
[1975]) was also pivotal. Since the early 1980s, Dick’s work has been the subject 
of a growing number of monograph studies broadly within the field of literary 
criticism, including Robinson (1984), Warrick (1987), Mackey (1988), Palmer 
(2003), Barlow (2005), Vest (2009) and Rossi (2011). Several of these works 
(especially those produced in the 1980s) are concerned with establishing an 
overview of Dick’s oeuvre, examining his key themes and stylistic tropes, and 
establishing his work as a legitimate object of literary-critical study. That this 
aim of several early studies of Dick had largely been achieved by the end of 
the century may be reflected in the appearance more recently of critical guides 
to his work (e.g. Butler 2000; Link 2009). Several of the literary monographs 
pursue particular theses regarding the interpretation or significance of Dick’s 
work, in most cases associating it with one or many psychological, social and 
ontological aspects of the experience of postmodernism. 

One way my approach differs from the major trends in past Dick scholarship 
is in its treatment of the religious dimension of his work. With the important 
exceptions of Davis (1998) and McKee (2004), and more recently Lash’s account 
of Dick’s ‘information theology’ (2010), none of them taking a literary-critical 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

approach, most academic critics of Dick have either downplayed or struggled 
to integrate this aspect, which may initially seem quite incompatible with either 
a Marxist or a postmodernist framework. Through the paradigm of fabulation, 
I take Dick’s interest in religious questions of salvation, theodicy and the nature 
of existence to be contiguous with his critiques of capitalism. Empire^'* and 
all other worldly manifestations of violence: nor does this entail ascribing to 
Dick any particular adherence to a given religious faith, though he may display 
strong leanings in certain directions at different times. If Dick is religious, I will 
argue, it is ultimately in the mode of what Bergson terms ‘dynamic religion’, 
which, as we will see in the following chapter, consists in the manifestation at 
the level of mind and society of a biological tendency towards openness that 
opposes all closed forms: in other words, a transformative, creative impulse that 
undermines static, exclusive forms of religion, along with all other mechanizing 
technologies of social power. 

Dick has also been taken up by a diverse range of thinkers who can be 
located broadly within the transdisciplinary field of cultural theory, such as Jean 
Baudrillard, N. Katherine Hayles, Erik Davis, Steven Shaviro, and most recently, 
Laurence Rickels. In referring to Dick’s work in Simulacra and Simulations 
(1994 [1981]), Baudrillard reflected and added early impetus to the tendency 
to associate Dick with postmodernism, with a world in which old distinctions 
between reality and fiction, the possible and the impossible, have been exploded, 
leaving behind only a hyperreal universe of simulations (1994 [1981]: 82-3 and 
passim). Hayles (1999) drew on Dick’s mid-1960s novels in exploring the rise 
of cybernetic technology and thinking in contemporary culture, attending to 
the ways Dick’s humans and androids reflect and respond to widespread (post) 
modern concerns with the destabilizing of boundaries between self and world, 
living and non-living subjects. These and other engagements with a postmod- 
ernist and posthumanist Dick share a tendency to move beyond the Marxist 
framework which shaped much early literary-critical work, by locating in his 
fictions a post-Marxist subject who continues to grapple with the alienating 
effects of late capitalism, but must also struggle to cope with the collapse of the 
old humanist subject which ‘he’ (dis)embodies. 

As with more strictly literary-critical readings, an effect of these broad 
trends is that the religious and theological concerns of Dick’s work, especially as 
pursued in his late novels and the Exegesis, have tended to be subsumed within 
other frameworks which downplay their significance. Concerns that are centrally 
associated with postmodernism and posthumanism certainly run through 
much of Dick’s work, and his interest in religion and salvation surely cannot be 



isolated from such contexts. However, nor is the significance of these interests, 
it seems to me, fully engaged by such approaches: they may be ‘explained’ within 
a postmodernist paradigm, but at the risk of failing to realize their potential. 
Such potential is simultaneously the site of the soteriological and the political 
or emancipatory force of Dick’s work. For example, where Palmer rightly recog- 
nizes that ‘transformation is the engine, the pulsion of his fiction’ (2003: 7), he 
nevertheless seems ultimately to tie this transformative power to the extent of 
Dick’s ‘anticipation of the condition of postmodernity’ (2003: 9) - that is, to 
his engagement in critical activities (with regard, for example, to ideological 
constructions of reality and the human subject) whose full force and effects are 
located elsewhere. While literary-critical scholars like Palmer and Vest (2009), 
or theorists like Baudrillard and Hayles, continue to find much socio-political 
significance in Dick’s fiction, their engagements tend to leave us with an idea 
of Dick as representing (albeit in both active and passive senses) rather than 
engaging in the transformation of an era: perhaps because of the originality and 
incisiveness of his insights and fictional creations, an image emerges of a writer 
with a great talent for depicting, reflecting, describing, exploring, elaborating a 
number of important cultural developments that were perhaps not yet widely 
apparent, but which have become increasingly visible since his death. While I 
value this dimension of past Dick scholarship (and of Dick’s work), here I want 
to emphasize and pursue the ways in which he is not just a documenter or even 
investigator of his worlds and times, but is attempting, through his writing, to 
change them. 

These attempts at transformation do not follow a coherent programme or a 
clear set of goals, but work upon a wide variety of targets, including the conven- 
tions of science fiction and literature, Dick’s own personal circumstances and 
psychological states, his contemporary political culture, our understanding 
of the human, the perception of history, and even the fundamental nature of 
reality. In attempting to transform these aspects of his world, Dick is sometimes 
powerfully effective, often deluded, occasionally conventional, but consist- 
ently attentive to the ways subjective knowledge and objective reality cannot 
be separated from one another - and always perseveres, with a determination 
fuelled by both desperation and hope, in the quest to find, or to construct, a path 
to salvation. 

Among those works which do pay attention to Dick’s religious dimension 
without attempting to subsume it within a Marxist, postmodernist or other 
established paradigm of literary criticism are Erik Davis’ TechGnosis (1998) and 
Gabriel McKee’s Pink Beams of Light from God in the Gutter (2004). In McKee’s 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

short book, he conducts an excellent reading of Dick as speculative theologian, 
drawing on the late works and the relatively limited selection of the Exegesis 
writings that was available prior to the appearance of the 2011 edition, offering 
a valuable counter-balance to the downplaying of the religious dimension 
elsewhere (McKee 2004: 27). Ultimately, McKee’s attempts to recuperate Dick’s 
religious outlook for a broadly Christian framework may go too far in the other 
direction, flattening out some of the eclectic range of Dick’s religious interests 
(for example, in relation to gnostic thought), and neglecting the compatibility 
of his religious and ethical concerns with the interests of revolutionary politics 
and critical theory. Nevertheless, McKee provides many valuable insights into 
Dick’s relationship to salvation and religion, and, particularly for my own study, 
to the writing of Saint Paul. Davis, in contrast, situates Dick’s gnostic and other 
mystical interests within the contemporary context of information culture. 
Though only a relatively small portion of TechGnosis focuses directly on Dick, 
the book as a whole tunes into a theme which is crucial to the connection 
between Bergson and Dick I pursue here - that of the relationship between 
technology and mysticism as always-already intertwined, mutually enhancing, 
though often opposed dimensions of human existence. Davis has been a key 
advocate of the significance of Dick’s religious interests and the Exegesis in 
particular, playing a central role in the publication of the 2011 edition. A further 
significant recent intervention is found in Scott Lash’s development of Dick’s 
relevance to global information culture and what he calls ‘intensive culture’, 
using Dick’s experimentation with notions of transubstantiation to develop 
parallels and convergences between the becoming substantial of the divine in 
religious thought, and the way ‘substance enters the commodity itself’ in infor- 
mational capitalism (2010: 185). 

The most recent attempt at developing an overall reading of Dick’s oeuvre 
is Umberto Rossi’s Twisted Worlds (2011). Rossi attempts to provide a key and 
framework for understanding Dick’s work which he elucidates and affirms 
through readings of a large number of Dick’s novels, suggesting that his 
approach may also be applied to those works he is not able to explore in 
depth. Although in the present book I do not engage in close readings of as 
many of Dick’s works as Rossi, I would likewise suggest that the framework of 
fabulation as a mode of immanent soteriology developed here may similarly 
be considered an ‘organic plan (Rossi 2011: 3) that could productively be used 
to examine most areas of Dick’s work. Rossi’s central thesis - that Dick can be 
understood through the principle of ‘ontological uncertainty’, resulting from the 
author’s continual struggle to maintain both subjective and objective modes of 



accounting for reality, the idios and the koinos kosmos (Rossi 2011: 7) - seems 
to me entirely apt. In his clear formulation, he makes a coherent interpretive 
framework out of a range of past critical engagements with the ontological 
questions raised by Dick’s writing, while producing many valuable insights in 
his analyses of particular novels. What my engagement attempts to do is to set 
this aspect of Dick’s approach not only to writing, but to fabulating reality in 
any register, within what I take to be its (immanently) soteriological context. 
This necessarily means operating partially outside of the paradigm of literary 
criticism within which Rossi situates his study. 

Thus where I part with Rossi to an extent is in his conception of a strong 
boundary between philosophy and literary criticism (and thus, implicitly, 
between philosophy and fiction/storytelling). Rossi states that, despite his focus 
on ontological uncertainty, his is not a philosophical analysis, but a literary 
criticism monograph, because a novel ‘aims at telling a story, after all - which 
is not the main purpose of philosophy’ (10). The boundary between philoso- 
phizing and telling stories is one which Dick as much as any writer, it seems 
to me, challenges us to call into question. As I tried to suggest above, for me 
it is not at all certain that philosophy does not have the telling of stories as a 
central aim or function. Conversely, the function of Dick’s writing is surely not 
exhausted by the fact that it aims to tell stories (though, of course, an explicitly 
literary-critical approach is at liberty to use this as a way of delimiting its scope). 
Even if we were to allow that Dick does little other than tell stories - which I find 
perfectly plausible - this would still leave open the question of what it means to 
engage in this activity, to fictionalize, to produce and multiply counter-realities, 
not to mention the functions and dynamics of such activity, of what storytelling 
does. Through both the Bergsonian theory of fabulation, and Dick’s employment 
of fictionalizing in a range of modes that refuse to be restricted to the literary, 
the philosophical, the psychological, the political, or any other register, this 
book attempts to address such questions, locating the ontological and biological 
origins of storytelling at the point where survival and salvation converge in the 
fundamental indistinction of the impossible and the real. 

Hence, just as Rossi argues that the co-presence of objective and subjective 
explanations ‘should be preserved in the interpretive discourse, not explained 
away’ (2011: 7), I would suggest that Dick’s fluid ability to traverse literary, 
philosophical, theological, political and other modes of thought and creativity 
ought also to be preserved in our academic and critical engagements with him, 
or if unavoidably forgotten at times, attentively remembered wherever possible. 
A recent work which, more than most, follows Dick in moving freely across 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

such disciplinary and discursive boundaries is Laurence Rickels’ I Think 1 Am: 
Philip K. Dick (2010). Rickels not only reflects the creative relationship with 
death that Dick pursues (and which pursues him) through his writing, but 
explores the ways this simultaneously becomes a relationship with academic 
and popular psychology, philosophy and religion. The processes of mechani- 
zation and salvation which I focus on here could be understood respectively as 
processes of becoming-inanimate and becoming-animate - of dying and living 
(or coming back to life). Salvation as the escape from mechanization/android- 
ization is escape from death, an impossible escape, in terms of both immediate 
and immanent experiences of mortality, and one which therefore requires the 
power of fabulation, of a potential for transforming or transmuting impossi- 
bility into the realm of experience and life. Yet Rickels, with Dick, reminds us 
that what we take to be a line of flight from death may turn out to be a short-cut 
passage straight into the heart of darkness - and that, by the same ferrymans 
token, embarking on a quest for life may well require deliberately stepping into 
the fantastic realm of the dead. Above all, 1 Think I Am reminds us of the incal- 
culable value of serious playfulness - of madness, punning, irreverence - in any 
effective strategy for dealing with death: such devices for twisting free of the 
apparent constraints upon what one may or may not do might ultimately be the 
central element of Dick’s great capacity for fabulation. 

Note on terminology 

Before concluding this introduction, it is worth giving one or two clarifications 
regarding the term Tabulation’, which is used in both technical and everyday 
contexts, but is not entirely commonplace in either. One general use of the term 
associates it with storytelling as the production of fables. It is also sometimes 
used as though synonymous with ‘telling stories’ in the related though less 
culturally sanctioned sense of lying or (dis)simulating. Bergson’s employment 
of the term encompasses these senses, but is formally broader, in that it may 
refer to any act of fictionalizing, in virtually any register - mythological, literary, 
dramatic, spoken, gestural, hallucinatory. At the same time, it is functionally 
more specific, in associating such fictionalizing activity with a potentially 
saving function. Moreover, in contrast to the usual connotations of the term, for 
Bergson fabulating need not entail being aware or conscious that one is engaged 
in the activity of fictionalizing. Indeed, it is the very possibility of concealing 
the fact of fabulation from one’s own intellect that gives it this saving potential. 



Bergson’s fabulation function is a faculty humans have evolved for reasons 
relating to survival, as we will see in the following chapter, but which, having 
been evolved, can be put to countless different uses, some of which may seem 
very far from such a function. 

It is also worth noting that Bergsonian fabulation has little to do with the 
distinction made in Russian formalism between fabula and siuzhet, where the 
fabula or story is determined as the events of a narrative in their linear, chrono- 
logical occurrence, and the siuzhet or plot refers to the order in which they are 
arranged in the story’s telling (Kolesnikoff 1993: 631-2). It may be possible to 
make some case for relating this distinction to the one I will make here between 
static and dynamic fabulation, with the latter conceived as something like the 
process of inventing the unreal, and static fabulation as the contents or results 
of that process. However, even this parallel would be limited, not least because 
fabulation is a process that is not restricted to the context of narration - e.g. 
seeing a ghost is just as much a fabulation as telling a ghost story. 

Furthermore, we should distinguish Bergson’s Tabulation’ from Robert 
Scholes’ (1979) use of the same term in relation to metafiction. Though Scholes 
does not appear to be drawing on Bergson, there are some parallels between the 
two usages - though these are again limited by the extent to which Scholes is 
operating within an explicitly literary-critical paradigm. Scholes uses the term 
Tabulator’ to refer to writers who share certain characteristics such as ‘delight 
in design’ and a ‘concurrent emphasis on the art of the designer’ (1979: 3). 
Such writers’ work has since perhaps become more commonly associated with 
terms like ‘postmodernism’ and ‘metafiction’. While this stylistic use of the 
term has little to do with Bergsonian fabulation, there is some resonance in 
Scholes’ suggestion that fabulation turns away from realism and representation 
towards ‘actual human life, by way of ethically controlled fantasy’ (1979: 3). 
This could certainly apply to Dick’s work, which, as we have begun to see, has 
an irreducible ethical dimension that is directly associated with the erosion 
of any stable boundary between fiction and reality - or, as Scholes puts it, the 
development of ‘subtle correspondences between the reality which is fiction 
and the fiction which is reality’ (1979: 8). Indeed, Scholes names Dick in the 
epilogue to Fabulation and Metafiction (1979) as one of a number of new writers 
from the realm of science fiction who are ‘emerging to join the ranks of literary 
fabulators, bringing both a concern for the traditional values of story-telling and 
a fresh vision of human problems and aspirations’ (1979: 218). 

However, Dick is a fabulator in the Bergsonian sense first of all, meaning 
that he fabulates before (and regardless of whether) he produces literature; and 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

most importantly, in that his fabulations maintain a crucial relationship, as I will 
argue throughout this book, to an ongoing search for salvation. In connection 
with this search, whatever elements of artifice and metafiction may be found 
in Dick can be considered to arise to a large extent organically or dynamically, 
rather than primarily out of an intellectual ‘delight in design’ or an abstract 
interest in self-referentiality, even if these are also at work. 

Finally, it is worth noting, especially in light of the foregoing introduction, 
that it is only through a long history of accidents of naming that we have ended 
up with the Latinate term ‘science fiction’. If we were to attempt to retrofit the 
term into a Greek form (forgetting, just for a moment, the great revisions to the 
history of thought that this would imply) we might find the best alternative to 
scientia, ‘knowledge’, to be gnosis or indeed philosophia. ‘Fiction, meanwhile, 
would perhaps give way to mythos, or, given its roots in the Latin verb fingere, 
meaning ‘to mould or shape’ (e.g. out of clay), might be replaced by poiesis. 
Meanwhile, there is no reason we should not invert the traditionally cited 
etymology of ‘philosophy’ itself, such that, rather than ‘the love of wisdom’, 
its first and proper meaning is understood, following Luce Irigaray, to be ‘the 
wisdom of love’ (2004: 1-12). Taking all this into account, and briefly turning 
away from what Dick terms, as we will see in Chapter 4, ‘The tyranny of the 
concrete’, the whole phrase ‘the philosophy of science fiction’ may be trans- 
muted into ‘the wisdom of mythopoetic love’. Such might be the title of this 
book in an alternative universe. 


Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 

What’s to be gotten over is the false idea that an hallucination is a private 

(Dick, E: 337) 

One of the central achievements of Bergson’s The Two Sources of Morality 
and Religion (1932) is to provide a convincing argument for the fundamental 
evolutionary, social and psychological reasons for our ability and tendency to 
fictionalize. The activity or process of fictionalizing, considered within such 
functional contexts, is what Bergson terms fabulation. It is easy to overlook 
the full significance of this concept in Bergson’s argument, embedded as it is 
within his broader investigation of the nature of society, morality and religion. 
Furthermore, while Bergson pursues through this investigation the question 
of the past and future survival of humanity, addressing the socio-biological 
development of religion both in general and in relation to the ethico-political 
context of industrial, global modernity, the idea of a contemporary emanci- 
patory role of fabulation as I will argue for it here, remains implicit within his 
project. For these reasons, this chapter focuses almost exclusively on elaborating 
the role of fabulation in Two Sources, and deriving a Bergsonian understanding 
of the role fabulation may play in the task of humanity’s (self-)salvation from 
mechanization in the modern era. This is the task which, I argue across this 
book as a whole, Dick’s oeuvre likewise undertakes, in ways that can be under- 
stood as enacting, exploring and developing a relationship between the general 
socio-cultural roles of fabulation as Bergson understands them, and the special 
significance it takes on in the industrial and post-industrial eras. 

I will suggest that what Bergson offers in Two Sources may be considered 
an immanent soteriology: a theory or logic of salvation (as opposed to a 
theological contribution to the study of existing doctrine) stripped of any 
necessary ontologically transcendent aspects, which is nevertheless unthinkable 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

without some concept, image or intimation of the transcendent. This strange 
hybrid of immanent and transcendent paradigms is conceived as a necessary 
response to the set of modern conditions in which the mechanization of human 
life - its reduction to the literal or symbolic status of the non-living - demands 
to be addressed as a fundamentally material, real threat, yet which in its near- 
infinite reach, almost unavoidably, in thought and image, takes on a sublime or 
quasi-divine dimension. Further, I will argue that, deliberately or not, Bergsons 
soteriology is left crucially incomplete, open to and perhaps inviting supple- 
mentation by something or someone that, from its own perspective, remains as 
yet unknown: in Dickian vocabulary, a divine invasion. 

Mechanization and the war- instinct 

Bergson’s Two Sources is a work of urgency, despite or because of its late 
appearance in his life and career. Like several of his contemporaries who had 
attempted to investigate the origins of religion, Bergson was motivated by a 
concern for the plight of contemporary and future humanity. Thus, like Freud’s 
The Future of an Illusion (2004 [1927]) and Civilization and its Discontents (2008 
[1930]), Two Sources can to a large extent be read as an attempt, in the wake of the 
advent of global warfare, to diagnose where and how humanity had gone wrong: 
to discern how it had set itself on a course that was seemingly directed towards 
its own self-destruction, while asking what it would take to change this course. 

While all of Bergson’s philosophy may have profound ethical and social 
significance, in most of his writing this remains largely implicit. In the years 
leading up to the First World War, when he was at the height of his fame 
following the publication of his two best-known works. Matter and Memory 
(1896) and Creative Evolution (1907), several of Bergson’s contemporaries urged 
him to turn his attention towards developing the socio-political dimension of 
his work - among them, Charles Peguy, Edouard Berth, and Georges Sorel, 
whose five articles drawing on Bergson in the journal Mouvement socialiste 
were the basis for his Reflections on Violence (2004 [1908]).' Though certainly 
conscious that his philosophy had potential ethical and political implications, 
Bergson seems initially to have been cautious about making this dimension 
overt. However, whatever reservations he may have had about engaging in 
politics were set aside when, following the outbreak of war, he accepted a duty 
to perform whatever roles he could in support of the war effort as a public intel- 
lectual. Aside from delivering speeches and lectures on the war and German 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


imperialism, he was engaged in a significant diplomatic mission. Called on by 
the French government to serve as an unofficial diplomat in the USA, according 
to his biographer Philippe Soulez, Bergson was instrumental in conducting 
secret negotiations that played a key role in convincing President Woodrow 
Wilson to lead his country into the war against Germany. Following the end of 
the conflict, Bergson accepted a nomination to the International Committee on 
Intellectual Cooperation, an advisory group for the League of Nations, where 
he worked with other well-known cultural figures such as Thomas Mann, Paul 
Valery and Albert Einstein to lay the foundations for what would eventually 
become UNESCO (Soulez and Worms 2002: 184-7). Only once illness had 
forced him to retire from public duties did Bergson finally undertake the 
extended philosophical engagement with social and political life that figures 
like Sorel and Peguy, now long dead, had asked him to undertake a quarter of a 
century earlier. 

Two Sources carries out a philosophical investigation into the origins and 
evolution of social life, religion and morality, not as a disinterested analysis, but 
in the hope of contributing to the immense task of preventing future wars. It can 
be understood in this regard as continuous with his previous diplomatic efforts 
- though there is also much continuity with his earlier philosophical works. The 
investigation Bergson undertakes in Two Sources allows him to address simul- 
taneously the crisis of modern humanity, with its apparently unprecedented 
capacity and will for self-destruction, and the question of human violence in 
general as an immanent self-destructive threat. At the core of both diagnoses is 

In its common usage as roughly equivalent to ‘industrialization’, the term 
‘mechanization’ refers to the processes of using machinery to carry out work, 
and the hugely expanded role of such processes in modern society. Yet mechan- 
ization as a set of physical and social processes is also bound up with the 
epistemology of mechanism, a perspective underpinning or accompanying 
the beginnings of industrial modernity, which approaches the physical world 
as deterministic, as though composed of a set of machine parts which behave 
predictably according to fixed rules. A subtle, though no longer obscure set of 
connections ties this epistemological or scientific view to certain developments 
in the organization and modes of social life which have been critically analysed 
for their deleterious effects on physical and political freedom. Eoucault’s 
Discipline and Punish (1991 [1975]) can be read as an extended elaboration 
of these connections, showing how, for example, the mechanical view of the 
human body espoused by La Mettrie in L’homme machine (‘Machine Man) 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

(2009 [1748]), becomes an image of the disciplined docile body of the modern 
factory worker, soldier or prisoner. Elsewhere Otto Mayr (1986) has exposed the 
direct and complex links between the so-called ‘mechanical philosophy’ and the 
modern discourses and practices of political liberty (and its restriction). 

Mechanization in relation to such contexts can be understood as the 
reduction of the living to mechanical or non-living status. Yet while the 
accounts of Mayr, Foucault and others highlight how the discourses and disci- 
plines of mechanization are specific to European modernity, it is also clear 
that the reduction of life to the status of the non-living, both in thought and 
practice, is virtually a permanent aspect of human social existence. We may 
consider any process by which the possible autonomy of one living being is 
restricted in order to render that being a resource or tool for the sustenance 
of another, as a form of mechanization. It is a human trait to instrumentalize 
other humans (and other life-forms). In fact, we can go further and suggest 
that the nonhuman, the technological, the mechanistic must already, in this 
and other senses, be considered a dimension of the human - a point that is 
made in diverse twentieth-century philosophical discourses, from Simondon’s 
account of individuation and pre-individual being (1995 [1964]), to Heidegger’s 
understanding of man as a being already ‘claimed by a way of revealing’ that 
is ‘never a human handiwork’ (1993 [1954]: 324), to Lyotard’s conception of 
the ‘inhuman as both an effect of the modern technological condition, and 
as a repressed potential for becoming something other than human (1991 
[1988]). Such examples parallel Bergson’s approach to mechanization by unset- 
tling a humanist ethics that would seek to restore an ideal or essential human 
against its corruption by mechanism. Acknowledging that the mechanical and 
mechanization are already deeply engrained in human existence before it is 
even possible to conceive of human essences and ideals is crucial to the possi- 
bility of overcoming the ethically and physically destructive dangers posed by 
mechanization, in the immanent soteriologies of both Bergson and Dick. 

If Bergson uses the term ‘mechanization’ most frequently in the sense of 
industriahzation, such usage is never easily separable from this range of ethical, 
physical and biological contexts, which run through the text as a whole. Indeed, 
to the extent that Bergson’s philosophy repeatedly explores a conception of life 
in relation to the non-living, of the reduction of dynamic, living or creative 
processes to the status of the static and mechanistic, a concern with mechan- 
ization, in a variety of terminologies, can be seen as implicit in most of his 
philosophical work. At the core of both Time and Free Will (1960 [1889]) and 
Matter and Memory (1988 [1896]), for example, is the critical exposition of 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


the ways in which duration, the enduring continuity forming the basis of our 
relation to time and memory, is reduced to the status of the mechanical and 
quantifiable. These works critique the mechanization of time (its treatment as 
though equivalent to spatial extension), freedom (the erosion of the capacity to 
behave non-deterministically) and mind (its reduction to the status of machine) 
- which are habitual in both everyday life and in dominant modes of scientific 

To explain how it is possible to think beyond or against these habits, Bergson 
develops a dualistic understanding of the human mind, in which the intellect is 
conceived as the aspect which approaches phenomena practically by breaking 
them down into significant, analysable and quantifiable parts, while intuition is 
conceived as the aspect which, at least to some degree, is able to grasp things in 
their wholeness or continuity with the rest of the universe. This conception of 
intuition which, in refined form, becomes the basis of Bergsons philosophical 
method, requires one to attend constantly to the habits and presumptions of 
one’s own intellect. This, he suggests, necessitates that the mind effectively do 
violence to itself, in order to ‘reverse the direction of the operation by which 
it ordinarily thinks, continually upsetting its categories’ and arriving at ‘fluid 
concepts, capable of following reality in all its windings’ (2002: 190). Thus from 
an early stage in his career Bergson critiques mechanization simultaneously 
at the level of the phenomena he sets out to investigate, and in the method of 
investigation - such that mind and reality, knowledge and world, cannot be 
considered to belong to separate realms. 

When in Creative Evolution Bergson undertook a critical examination of the 
tendency to reduce biological life and its historical development to a mechan- 
istic, determinate status, he was thus careful not to restrict his critique to 
contemporary scientific thinking: his study took account of the fact that both 
such thinking and his own re-examination of evolution were affected by that 
very evolution - in that human thought is one of its products. Thus in addition 
to his proposition of an original vital principle (which he famously termed the 
dan vital) as responsible for the creative transformation of life, he pursued the 
dualistic development of intellect and instinct as two dominating and divergent 
tendencies in the history of life. The first of these aspects of his approach - 
apprehending evolution as driven by a creative principle - requires one to 
overcome, to a degree, the habits of intellect whose long evolution is accounted 
for in the second aspect. This recognition of a necessary recursivity between the 
method and the thing studied anticipates Maturana and Varela’s account of the 
biological origins of cognition, which is guided by the principle that 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

the phenomenon of knowing cannot be taken as though there were ‘facts’ or 
objects out there that we grasp or store in our head. The experience of anything 
out there is validated in a special way by the human structure, which makes 
possible ‘the thing’ that arises in the description. (1987; 25-6) 

For Maturana and Varela, as for Bergson, in order to study a phenomenon such 
as the evolution of human knowledge, it is essential to recognize the blind spots 
created by that very evolution and, where possible, to overcome the analytic 
bias towards ‘facts’ as quantifiable, equivalent, archivable units of information.^ 
What Bergson identifies in the mechanizing habits of his own intellect is an 
expression of a proto-mechanizing tendency that is virtually endemic to life: the 
tendency for a cell, organism or group to extract the energy it needs in order 
to perpetuate itself from its environment - which, importantly, includes other 
organisms (CE: 253). Yet only in Two Sources does he directly link this tendency 
to mechanization in the social sense of industrialization and its concomitant 
ethico-political transformations. Here he associates the mechanizing tendencies 
that he had already identified as aspects of the biological development of life 
and the psychic functioning of the human, with the human tendency towards 
violent conflict. This tendency is so embedded in human social and biological 
existence that Bergson refers to it as a ‘war-instinct’, explaining it as follows: 
‘the origin of war is ownership, individual or collective, and since humanity is 
predestined to ownership by its structure, war is natural’ (MR: 284). 

it is this deep embedding of the tendency towards war within the biological 
origins of human society that renders the overriding concern of Two Sources - 
the overcoming or subverting of the destructive threat of warfare - so difficult. 
What renders the task so urgent is the ever-increasing scale of this threat under 
the conditions of modern mechanization - the social processes of industri- 
alization intensifying and extending the reach of the human’s older, endemic 
mechanizing tendencies. With the globalization of modern mechanized warfare, 
the destruction of life on an unseen scale emerges as a realistic possibility, and 
the destruction of the species or life as a whole becomes thinkable: 

At the pace at which science is moving, that day is not far off when one of the 
two adversaries, through some secret process which he was holding in reserve, 
will have the means of annihilating his opponent. The vanquished may vanish 
off the face of the earth. (MR; 287) 

Understandably in the years following the First World War and his own 
subsequent diplomatic and political efforts to avert future conflicts, Bergson 
perceived the destructive technologies of mechanized warfare as the most 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


obvious and most threatening modern expression of the war-instinct. Yet he 
also emphasized that even without direct military conflict, the rise of mechani- 
zation (in the sense of industrialization) still brings about the mass destruction 
of human life - for example through illness and starvation as a result of the 
ongoing appropriation of industry to serve the needs of the few. Mechanization 
may take place through a range of means other than war, such as enslavement, 
labour markets, ideological manipulation, population management, not to 
mention the wide-reaching instrumentalization of nonhuman life. We should 
also bear in mind that, although his remarks concerning a secret weapon with 
the capacity to make the vanquished ‘vanish off the face of the earth’ seem to 
anticipate nuclear warfare, the Nazi genocide during the Second World War 
may ultimately have come closest to realizing Bergsons fears; what made this 
possible was a combination of mechanization in the sense of a readiness to treat 
other humans as non-living, with another form of mechanization in the shape 
of a massive, bureaucratic infrastructure. 

Thus although, at a socio-philosophical level. Two Sources can be under- 
stood as an enquiry into the nature and origins of morality and religion in 
human society, the motivation for this enquiry is urgently ethical and political, 
primarily directed towards the problem of overcoming the war-instinct. This 
task appears, in the inter-war period in which Bergson is writing, to be shifting 
its status, from that of a question of great moral significance to one whose 
accomplishment may well be a necessary condition for human future survival. 

It can thus be argued that Bergson undertakes his enquiry into morality and 
religion because it is in these spheres that the suppression of the war-instinct 
has previously been achieved. Understanding first how this suppression or 
challenge was ever possible, and second, why it has only ever been partially 
successful - and then posing the question of how it might be renewed in an era 
which has seen mechanization cross a new threshold in terms of its destructive 
scale and power, are three necessary stages in this undertaking; and as we will 
see, fabulation plays a crucial role in each of them. 

The biological origins of society 

A fundamental premise of Two Sources is that social evolution is an extension 
or continuation of biological evolution: ‘[...] the evolution of life along its two 
main lines has been accomplished in the direction of social life. [...] since life 
is organization, [...] we pass by imperceptible transitions from the relation 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

between cells in an organism to the relation between individuals in society’ 
(MR: 94). The way Bergson links biology and society here differs subtly but 
crucially from the association implied in the analogy between organism and 
society used by many early social theorists, such as Comte, Spencer, Schaeffle 
and Durkheim.^ For such thinkers, the analogy was a means by which the young 
field of the study of society could borrow legitimacy and methodological weight 
from the more established study of living organisms in the biological sciences. 
Bergson’s emphasis, however, is on the relations among cells and individuals in 
a manner that presupposes neither the primacy of these units, nor the whole 
(organism/society) of which they are part, and that sees a formal identity, rather 
than analogy, between these relationships as considered in different spheres.^ 
Thus he moves us away from both the organism and analogy, towards a general 
principle of life as an organizing tendency, of which both the organism and 
society are products: ‘society therefore is not self-explanatory; so we must 
search below the social accretions, get down to Life, of which human societies, 
as indeed the human species altogether, are but manifestations’ (MR: 100). 

As I noted above, Bergson had argued in Creative Evolution that the essence 
of life is to procure energy from the material world (which it then expends in 
various ways) (CE: 253). Thus he can state that ‘life is, more than anything else, a 
tendency to act on inert matter’ (CE: 96). This apparently circular definition (life 
is what acts upon the non-living) can also be read as an indication of its inherent 
mechanizing tendency (whatever life acts upon is by this action constituted, in 
some sense, as non-living). What Bergson refers to as the ‘two main lines’ of 
animal evolution are differentiated by the means, in general, by which they carry 
out this task: along one line, epitomized by hymenopteran species such as bees 
and ants, instinct is emphasized; the other line, in which humanity emerges, has 
tended to emphasize intellect. Bergson is careful not to over-define or essen- 
tialize these dominant characteristics (among other issues, such an analytical 
approach would produce an account shaped in advance by the intellectual 
perspective). While instinct and intellect constitute ‘radically different kinds 
of knowledge’ (CE: 143), they nevertheless share a common biological origin, 
and even at the extremes represented by hymenopteran and human species, the 
dominance of one never completely eradicates the other: ‘There is no intelli- 
gence in which some traces of instinct are not to be discovered, more especially 
no instinct that is not surrounded with a fringe of intelligence’ (CE: 136). 

In the same vein, it would be excessive to link intellect or intelligence exclu- 
sively to consciousness, regarding instinct as wholly unconscious - though 
they can be said generally to tend in these directions (CE: 145). Rehearsing an 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


approach he had developed in the first chapter of Matter and Memory, Bergson 
here suggests that the degree of consciousness found in a living system is relative 
to the size of the gap between actual and potential action - which is effectively 
to identify it with the organisms capacity for hesitation or choice (CE: 144-5).^ 
The fact that Bergson retains this definition across his work is particularly 
significant in light of its proximity with Dick’s ethics of balking, a point to which 
we will return later. At this stage in Creative Evolution, Bergson reformulates 
the dualism of intellect and intuition discussed above, arguing that intellect is 
predisposed to that which is material, solid (CE: 153), to that which is or may 
be conceived as discontinuous, immobile (CE: 154-5). Intuition, in contrast, 
is attuned to the apprehension of ‘true continuity, real mobility, reciprocal 
penetration - in a word, that creative evolution which is life’, yet requires the 
mind to ‘twist about on itself’ in order to escape the fixities of habitual, intel- 
lectual thinking (CE: 162). 

What Bergson does not do in Creative Evolution is link his account of the 
dominance of intellect to its social context. There are hints at a wider socio- 
ethical dimension, for example in his observation that the intellect’s tendency 
to find causality everywhere ‘expresses the very mechanism of our industry’ in 
which the same parts are repeatedly combined in a repeated series of movements 
to build the same products (CE: 164). Yet on the whole his consideration of the 
intellect as situated within a society - among other intellects - extends only as 
far as a consideration of language as equally tailored towards analytic, immobile, 
materialist ways of knowing. Only in Two Sources does he address directly 
the social and moral consequences of being governed by an intellect whose 
dominant characteristic is ‘a natural inability to comprehend life’ (CE: 165, 
original emphasis). A society of such beings would seem to be one doomed to 
fail: a society of asocial schizoids, unable to sympathize or respond emotionally 
to one another (although see Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moon (1975 [1964]) for 
a speculative exploration of how some kind of social order might emerge among 
a diverse group of largely anti-social organisms). 

That Bergson was still able, in Creative Evolution, to pass over this funda- 
mental contradiction or tension at the heart of the social is likely not only due 
to the particular focus of his study, but to the fact that, as he had already argued, 
intellect is never wholly without instinct - so that intellect’s inability to grasp life 
does not place such an understanding beyond the human entirely. Indeed, it is 
only this co-existence of intellect and instinct that makes intuition possible. The 
simple fact of the endurance of societies of organisms dominated by intellect 
may be taken to reflect the success, however limited, of this balance between 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

intellect, instinct and intuition. Yet the hugely transformed historical circum- 
stances that followed the First World War would surely have made it difficult 
for any European to take it as a given that society was naturally able, or would 
continue, to overcome its asocial tendencies. The question of how the intellects 
failure to understand life impacts on human societies, indeed, of how it leads 
humans in social groups and as a species to self-destruction, becomes crucial 
for Bergson at this moment, as for many of his contemporaries. 

Countering the intellect 

Though Bergson challenged the neo-Darwinist views of evolution that 
portrayed it as an entirely automatic, mechanistic process, natural selection 
remains crucial to his conception of creative evolution (CE: 23-4; cf Pearson 
2002: 79-81). According to this understanding, natural selection is ‘not purely 
accidental, although accident has a large place in it; and it does not depend 
solely on the initiative of individuals, although individuals collaborate in it’ (CE: 
170-1). In Two Sources, this perspective manifests as a form of functionalism 
(to use a certain Darwin-influenced sociological vocabulary): any aspect of a 
phenomenon which endures, in particular a phenomenon which involves life, 
such as a species, an organism, a society, but also a religion, an idea, a dream, 
can be expected to perform (or to have performed in the past) some function 
relevant to that endurance. Hence Bergson reasons that since both the major 
lines of evolution, with their respective emphases on instinct and intellect, have 
led to social life, sociality must likewise have favoured life’s fundamental activity 
of extracting energy from matter. 

Yet where social life among species governed by instinct operates as though 
by necessary laws, such that the activity of every organism is subsumed under 
the activity of the collective, intelligence brings with it certain individualistic 
traits that threaten all possibility of social cohesion. Bergson suggests three 
particular ways in which this happens. The first is the possibility, indeed the 
likelihood, that the individual will place his or her own interests above those of 
the group: ‘roused to thought, he will turn to himself and think only of leading 
a pleasant life’ (MR: 121). The second arises from awareness of mortality: since 
intelligence provides the human individual with ‘the faculty of observing with 
no view to immediate utility’ (MR: 130), it is quite easy for her to acquire a 
sense of certainty regarding her own death. As Bergson puts it, ‘[sjeeing that 
every living thing about him ends by dying he is convinced that he will die too’ 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


(MR: 130). The same ability to reason from observation leads to a third type of 
threat resulting from recognition of ‘the depressing margin of the unexpected 
between the initiative taken and the effect desired’ (MR: 140). This apparent 
primal ancestor of our modern Murphy’s Law (roughly stated, when something 
can go wrong, it will go wrong) may be conceived as an attitude of rational 
pessimism - the observation that, when there are countless things that could 
easily go wrong, failure is virtually guaranteed. All three of these effects of intel- 
ligence seem to pose a huge threat to any form of social collaboration - whether 
through individualistic self-interest leading to antagonism, violence and abuse, 
or through the depression and resignation that could be expected to accompany 
a sense of mortality and the ultimate futility of all one’s endeavours, including 
the primary struggle to survive. 

These are problems that do not arise in the case of societies governed by 
instinct, such as the bee-hive and the ant-hill, in which ‘the individual lives for 
the community alone’ (MR: 121). Bergson therefore attempts to identify the 
trait that has brought about an equivalent effect in the other main branch of 
evolution, epitomized by vertebrate species and characterized by the emergence 
of intellect. The earliest widespread social phenomenon in which he discerns 
counter-measures against the anti-social side-effects of intelligence is religion, 
and he gives an account of the ways religion - in what he takes to be its most basic 
elements - counters the threats posed by intelligence. The likelihood of a person 
acting exclusively in their own interests, at the expense of others, is countered 
by the disciplining social pressure that operates through the development of 
proto -religious customs. Knowledge of one’s mortality is countered by belief 
in the possibility of survival beyond the death of the body. (Bergson notes that 
the benefit to society of the belief in an after-life consists not only in ensuring 
that its individuals do not regress into debilitated states of depressed inactivity 
or self-destruction, but also in providing the condition of trans-generational 
endurance and stability required by social institutions - especially in societies 
that do not yet possess other signs of such continuity, in the form of laws, 
information systems, or long-lasting architectural structures.) Meanwhile, the 
possibility of being supported in one’s endeavours by invisible forces, whether in 
the form of deities, magic, spirits, or other animist or animatist entities, can help 
overcome rational pessimism. In short, ‘[p]rimitive religion [...] is a precaution 
against the danger man runs, as soon as he thinks at all, of thinking of himself 
alone. It is therefore [...] a defensive reaction of nature against intelligence’ 
(MR: 123-4). Bergson thus joins a number of early twentieth-century thinkers 
- some of the most influential being Freud, Durkheim and Malinowski - in 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

attributing to the earliest or simplest forms of religion the function of holding 
together social groups against the disintegrating effects of individualism. The 
specificity of Bergson’s approach, however, lies in the emphasis he places on 
the evolved capacity which makes religion possible in the first place. It is this 
capacity that he terms fabulation. 

At the point at which intellect, having brought new benefits to the organism 
and the species in terms of the capacity for survival, also begins to manifest 
certain new threats, instinct returns to counter intelligence’s potential danger to 
itself However, since humans have evolved in a manner which renders instinct 
subservient to intellect, it cannot directly intervene; or at least, it may supersede 
intellect only briefly in order to induce it to counter its own seemingly accurate, 
but potentially self-destructive observations: 

If this counterpoise cannot be instinct itself, for the very reason that its place has 
been taken by intelligence, the same effect must be produced by a virtuality of 
instinct, or if you prefer it, the residue of instinct which survives on the fringe 
of intelligence: it cannot exercise direct action, but since intelligence works 
on representations, it will call up ‘imaginary’ ones, which will hold their own 
against the representation of reality and will succeed, through the agency of the 
intelligence itself, in counteracting the work of intelligence. This would be the 
explanation of the fabulation function. (MR: 119) 

All the means by which religion, in what have been understood as its incipient 
or elementary forms, and in general, counters the individualistic tendencies of 
intellect, depend at some level on a human capacity to believe in that which, 
from a materialist perspective, would be considered non-actual. The idea of a 
soul that is not wholly coincident with the body, like the notion of animist forces 
that may punish or favour humans’ activities by invisibly controlling aspects 
of the environment or the actions of others, requires a capacity for believing 
in the enduring reality of that which has no immediate or substantial material 
presence. Bergson suggests that fabulation, the capacity for inventing and 
believing in such entities, forces and ideas, must have co-evolved with intellect, 
possibly as a function of instinct. 

Though we may consciously direct this capacity for fictionalizing in any 
direction, its primary function - the reason it has evolved, and, from a social 
point of view, its ongoing usefulness - lies in its ability to enable survival against 
(vastly) unfavourable odds. The archetypal situation in which the fabulation 
function operates is one of critical threat - that is, in which the life of an 
individual or a group seems to be in intense, imminent danger, and from which 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


the habitual intellectual mode of thought offers no means of escape - either 
because it does not perceive the danger, or because it sees it as inescapable. In 
order to illustrate this process by which fabulation ‘counteracts’ intelligence, 
Bergson recounts the following modern example from ‘psychical research’: 

A lady was on the upper floor of an hotel. The gate provided for the lift 
happened to be open. As the gate was so contrived as to be open only if the lift 
were stopped at that floor, she naturally thought the lift was there and rushed 
forward to take it. All of a sudden she felt herself flung backwards; the man 
entrusted with the working of the lift had just appeared and was pushing her 
back on to the landing. At this point she emerged from her fit of abstraction. She 
was amazed to see that neither man nor lift were there. The mechanism being 
out of order, it was possible for the gate to be open at her floor, though the lift 
was stiU down below. She had been about to fling herself into the gaping void; a 
miraculous hallucination had saved her life. (MR: 120) 

Despite its apparent cultural and historical remove from the context of the 
origins of religion, this example is informative in a number of ways (and would 
be a suitable scenario for illuminating the theory of fabulation even if it were 
itself ‘only’ a fiction). Bergson’s primary purpose is to illustrate the way a person 
may react to something instinctively before the intellect has had time to reflect 
on it. The fabulation of a ‘fictitious hallucinatory perception’ may be employed as 
part of this instinctive reaction to ‘evoke and explain the apparently unjustified 
movement’ (MR: 120-1), and dissuade the intellect from resisting. In addition, 
it demonstrates that the relationship Bergson identifies between fabulation 
and salvation entails the issue of immediate, physical survival (‘a miraculous 
hallucination had saved her life’), and furthermore, that he sees fabulation as a 
general psychological characteristic - neither restricted to the sphere of religion, 
nor belonging to what some nineteenth- and early twentieth-century thinkers 
viewed as the ‘pre-modern’ mind. 

Furthermore, this example shows how, for Bergson, fabulation and the 
religious phenomena to which it gives rise are no more social than individual 
in essence. Any given instance of ‘salvation’ through fabulation may in itself 
seem to have little significance for society as a whole; yet aggregated, a number 
of such incidents, especially when we consider them in the context of the more 
widespread threats discussed above, such as interpersonal violence, defeatism, 
a fear of death, and so on, may make the difference between survival and 
extinction for a species or large group. By the same token, individuals are 
saved in such situations only by virtue of the shared biological characteristic of 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

fabulation, and sometimes by the socialized fabulations for which it is respon- 
sible (i.e. shared religious beliefs and practices). The survival of the individual 
and the group are mutually enhancing: 

we have, indeed, seen that the fabulation function, innate in the individual, 
has as its first object the consolidation of society; but we know that it is also 
intended to support the individual himself, and that, moreover, such is the 
interest of society [...] The individual and society thus condition each other, 
circle-wise. (MR: 198-9) 

Fabulations function is thus to restore the balance, or circularity, originally a 
simple biological or ecological reality, that was threatened by the individualism 
of the intellect. As we will begin to see in the following chapter, the disjunction 
between personal and social realities is a driving force in Dick’s science fiction 
plots - and indeed, it is generally through fabulation that his characters (attempt 
to) cope with this disjunction. This theme, which as we have already noted, Dick 
himself often conceives in the Heraclitean vocabulary of the distinction between 
the idios kosmos and the koinos kosmos, may be observed throughout his work, 
although particularly illustrative examples can be found in Time Out of Joint 
(2003c [1959]), in which the main character unknowingly (initially) lives in 
an entire fake town constructed entirely for his benefit, or Flow My Tears, the 
Policeman Said (2001 [1974]), in which the protagonist Jason Taverner is a 
world-famous celebrity whose identity is suddenly erased from the popular 
consciousness. As Umberto Rossi (2011) argues, one cumulative effect of Dick’s 
fictions is to underscore the interminable instability of attempts to restore this 
balance between individual and social worlds (at least, for forms of life that 
have deviated from the pseudo-mechanistic evolutionary path in which instinct 

Bergson’s example of the malfunctioning lift shaft may also remind us (if 
slightly obliquely) that the dangers the woman evades arise not only from 
the lift’s machinery, but from her own intellect’s mechanistic tendencies. As 
Dick once said in an interview, ‘the entire universe and all the parts therein 
continually malfunction. But the great merit of the human being is that the 
human being is isomorphic with his malfunctioning universe. I mean, he too is 
somewhat malfunctioning’ (Dick, in Anton and Fuchs 1996: 43). In Ubik (2000c 
[1969]), another of Dick’s novels in which the disjunction between private and 
shared worlds is central, the main characters struggle to understand why certain 
technological objects have begun to revert to their earlier equivalent forms. Yet 
it is irresolvably uncertain whether it is the actual machines or the characters’ 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


own psychological mechanisms that are changing. This is made especially clear 
when, in a strange parallel to the example cited by Bergson, two characters 
find themselves hesitating on the point of entering a lift. While A1 Hammond 
perceives the lift as having reverted to a 1910 model with an open cage and a lift 
operator inside, his colleague Joe Chip sees the modern automated version to 
which he is accustomed. By concentrating on his memory of the lift’s modern 
form, Hammond is able to restore it, causing yet another apparently fictional 
lift operator - whose function again is to instigate attempts to overcome the 
difference between two versions of reality - to vanish (2000c: 124-5). 

Fabulation, then, is Bergson’s tentative answer to the question of what it is 
that makes social life possible among individuals with intellect. It is the faculty 
which prevents what he terms the war-instinct from becoming dominant. 
However, the history of human culture, which, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin, 
is simultaneously a history of barbarism, testifies to the limited scope of this 
overcoming: thus we should view fabulation not as the conqueror of the 
war-instinct, but as the marker and enabler of the possibility of going against the 
war-instinct - a possibility whose actualization hangs constantly in the balance, 
both during the course of a person’s daily existence, and through the course of 
human history. 

The morality of violence 

The limited success of fabulation in suppressing the war-instinct, according to 
Bergson’s account, had provided humanity through most of its existence with 
a reasonable chance of overall survival, however violent and self-destructive 
its path may have been. Yet it seemed that with the advent of the modern 
era these chances were dropping dramatically. Thus, having posited the value 
of fabulation in opposing the mechanizing dimension of intellect, Bergson 
addresses the question of its limitations, both in general, and in the particular 
social-historical context of modernity. 

A substantial part of Two Sources addresses the ways widespread, localized 
instances of fabulation may gradually give rise to forms of religion approaching 
its recognizable institutionalized versions. Through this account, one can trace 
the trajectory of mechanization as it is countered by fabulation within the 
group, only to return at the inter-social level. For mechanization is not banished 
by proto-religious fabulations such as the soul or gods, any more than the 
principles of entropy or gravity are banished by the growth of an embryo or a 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

bird in flight. Nevertheless, its effects are clearly sufficiently resisted in certain 
circumstances to allow social groups to function and grow, as shared moral 
codes, rituals and religious beliefs take on organized shape, effectively aggre- 
gating the various localized instances in which fabulation dissuades individuals 
from anti-social behaviour, or improves their own survival prospects (and 
thus restoring the functional unity that bound these two effects at the level of 
biological survival). 

One might ask what it is - barring the intervention of some supernatural 
intelligence - that causes this process to take place: that is, what causes the jump 
from scattered, localized fabulations in individual experience to the organized 
fabulations of religion? But for Bergson, fabulation does not so much cause 
social cohesion, as remove the obstacles which intellect places in the way of a 
biological tendency that long precedes the evolution of so-called homo sapiens. 
Even if, as Bergson argues in bofh Creative Evolution and Two Sources, verfe- 
brate evolution gradually leads towards the dominance of intellect over instinct, 
both are means of fulfilling a tendency towards cohesion, coordination - in a 
sense, a proto-sociality - which precedes them as a fundamental characteristic 
of life. Lynn Margulis’ serial endosymbiosis fheory, which suggests that the 
formation of new organisms through the symbiotic merging of separate cellular 
entities has been fundamental to the evolution of multicellular life, could be 
seen as a sophisticated contemporary version of such a principle.'’ 

Thus, before there is social obligation, there is obligation in general, which 
is ‘among the most specific phenomena of life’ (MR: 29). The crucial role 
fabulation plays in the emergence of human society is not in causing collabo- 
ration among individuals, but in sufficiently diminishing the extent to which 
intellect hinders such collaboration. Yet this essentially means allowing instinct 
to direct behaviour, which, as in the kind of society represented by the 
ant-hill, only suppresses individualistic behaviour for the benefit of fhaf society. 
Whatever morality develops on this basis is, in Bergson’s vocabulary, ‘closed’, 
in that none of its imperatives or responsibilities are extended to those beyond 
the particular social group in question: ‘In a word, fhe social instincf which we 
have defecfed af fhe basis of social obligafion always has in view - instinct being 
relatively unchangeable - a closed society, however large’ (MR 32). The kind 
of morality that is made possible by fabulation is ‘an attitude which is that of 
discipline in the face of the enemy’ (MR 31). The members of the closed society 
are bound together by an equally closed morality, in that their love and respect 
for one another - or their partial obedience to prohibitions against mutual 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


mistreatment - are based on mutual dependence and the pressure to defend 
themselves collectively against external threats. The corollary is that anyone 
considered outside the closed society is automatically assigned a status whereby, 
at a minimum, they lack the protection of any moral code operating within that 
society, and in many circumstances will be considered equivalent to material 
resources for consumption or use. Members of the closed society are likely to 
be permitted, if not encouraged, by their moral and religious frameworks to kill, 
enslave, steal from or otherwise abuse those who do not belong to their group. 
Thus fabulation, in offsetting the dangers of intellect within the social group, 
can be said to establish the conditions for, and even encourage the return of 
mechanization at an inter-social level. 

One might counter this aspect of Bergson’s theory by asking why, if it is 
correct, does closed morality not always lead to the total annihilation of one 
social group when two come into contact? But just as fabulation does not 
suppress individualism and the war-instinct entirely - indeed, it apparently does 
just enough to prevent human societies from collapsing - the closed morality 
to which it gives rise does not lead to a permanent state of violent aggression 
between closed societies. There are plenty of factors which would counter such 
a possibility. For one thing, even a closed society that regards members of an 
external group as entirely undeserving of any moral obligation will not neces- 
sarily see conflict with that group as in its own interests, depending on what it 
stands to lose and gain through such action. Another consideration must be 
that the longer contact continues, the less distinct the separation between two 
groups becomes, such that at some point a closed society must, at least partially, 
extend its morality to those who were not counted among its members when 
contact was first made. This happens regardless of whether the contact takes 
place primarily through war, trade, occupation, migration or other forms of 
cultural interaction. Presumably the only sets of circumstance in which this is 
not the case are those where annihilation takes place virtually immediately, and 
those in which a great effort is made to maintain isolation (i.e. those scenarios in 
which nothing significantly changes for the closed society in question as a result 
of contact). 

Aside from these mitigating factors, however, there is a crucial further element 
which may, and has, prevented closed morality from becoming totalized. In 
addition to the obligation or pressure that produces closed morality, there is a 
set of human characteristics which forms the basis for an entirely different form 
of morality. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Open morality and the misdirection of mechanism 

What Bergson refers to as ‘open morality’ is, in its origins, no less biological than 
closed morality. Both closed and open tendencies are aspects of the creative 
movement of life out of which both human organisms and human society have 
evolved. Whereas he views closed morality as the manifestation at a human 
psychological and social level of a self-preserving tendency towards closure, 
found throughout the living world, open morality manifests the governing 
generative principle or creative force of life. These two tendencies had been 
central to Bergson’s account of life in Creative Evolution. Returning to this 
perspective in Two Sources, he writes that a ‘great current of creative energy is 
precipitated into matter, to wrest from it what it can. At most points, remember, 
it came to a stop; these stops are equivalent, in our eyes, to the phenomena of so 
many living species’ (MR: 209). Species dominated by instinct are those ‘whose 
activity ran indefinitely in the same circle’ - that is, which took up positions of 
effective self-enclosure along the flow of evolution. However, that same flow 
continues to produce new forms, new possibilities - and in the case of humans, 
makes possible a capacity for invention (MR: 209-10). Hence, ‘all morality, be 
it pressure or aspiration, is in essence biological’ (MR: 101). This means that 
open morality - associated here with aspiration, in contrast to the pressure or 
obligation by which closed morality achieves sociality - is likewise a possibility 
immanent in all humans (if not all life). 

The potential for open morality may lie dormant most of the time, yet 
even as a potential - one that can be traced back to the small but crucial 
difference between the ant-hill organized through instinct and the human 
society governed by a virtual instinct - it makes it possible to conceive of an 
open society, in contrast to the closed. Where the closed society denotes a group 
with a finite number of members who are in principle countable, known to 
one another, identifying with one another (even if above a certain size this can 
take place only through ‘imagined communities’ [Anderson 1983] which are 
equally dependent on tabulation), the open society does not attempt to limit its 
membership. Importantly, this means the absence of predefined limits in both 
geographical and temporal/historical senses, in that the open society would 
count within its membership as a minimum the whole of humanity, without 
placing rigid restrictions on who or what may count, either geographically or 
with regard to possible future encounters. To invoke ‘humanity’ as a whole, of 
course, has both political and biological (or biopolitical) implications: where 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


used to refer to people (rather than an ethical quality), it easily tends towards 
the kind of closure Bergson associates with defining, delimiting a species (a 
process that can be understood to take place at the natural and the epistemo- 
logical level); yet within the perspective of open morality and the open society, 
the identification of members or groups of members as ‘human’ or otherwise 
can only ever be considered grounds for inclusion, never exclusion. 

We should note that Bergson’s distinction between the closed and open 
society is a distinction between static and dynamic forms that is itself dynamic. 
That is, these are not two simple categories, into which we can classify given 
empirical examples of specific societies. Such would be a means of distin- 
guishing according to closed thinking - and indeed, such classification forms 
a real, reductive though pragmatic component of much political thought and 
activity, especially in contexts such as national and global governance. The open 
society is more a principle or idea(l) that may affect and begin to transform 
the closed society. While a concrete instantiation of an open society may 
ultimately be unrealizable (and while any declaration of confidence in such an 
instantiation having taken place would negate itself, in declaring complete that 
which by nature must never be completed), as a principle, it indicates an always- 
possible process of ‘opening’ the closed society and closed morality. 

Though Bergson does not make it explicit, this means that any conception of 
the open society must also involve fabulation - and in a dynamic fashion. That is, 
no particular representation, as for example found in a utopian text, describing 
the specific political and social characteristics of an imaginary society, will 
suffice: any detailed, prescriptive or descriptive account of the open society 
immediately begins to revert towards closure.^ Nevertheless, remaining ‘open’ 
to the as-yet-unknown or not-yet- encountered member of a non-exclusionary 
society requires an imaginative gesture that would be impossible without the 
capacity to fictionalize. The notion of a fabulation which would resist the 
pressure to revert to closure (that is, to the support of the closed society with its 
closed morality) is an essential component of both the Bergsonian and Dickian 
soteriologies, one which will become clearer in the following chapters as we 
superimpose them upon one another. 

It seems then that fabulation’s success in thwarting the war-instinct has at 
best been partial, producing a precarious balance between social and anti- 
social behaviour. Closed morality has remained largely dominant, though the 
immanent potential for open morality, along with certain pragmatic constraints, 
has prevented this dominance from becoming total, just as fabulation prevents 
the individual intellect from destroying social life. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

What calls this into doubt for Bergson (as, implicitly, for many of his contem- 
poraries) is the coupling of humanity’s immanent mechanizing tendencies 
with the rise of modern industrial mechanization. As Bergson puts it, the 

pouring into these machines reserves of energy which nature (so heedless of 
economy) had never even thought of, has endowed us with powers beside which 
those of our body barely count: they wiU be altogether limitless when science is 
able to liberate the force which is enclosed, or rather condensed, in the slightest 
particle of ponderable matter. The material barrier has then well nigh vanished. 
(MR: 312) 

This statement anticipates aspects of later twentieth- and twenty-first-century 
discourses of posthumanism, both in theoretical writing and science fiction, 
highlighting how the materialistic, mechanistic worldview that underpins a 
certain (dominant) strand of modern scientific and technological thinking 
may ultimately lead towards rather than away from experiences and ideas that 
demand to be thought within a spiritual or quasi-religious framework. Katherine 
Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman (1999) and Erik Davis’ TechGnosis (1998) 
give incisive accounts of several dimensions of such trends - both drawing on 
Dick’s science fiction. As I suggested in the Introduction, and as much science 
fiction postulates, the most seemingly mechanistic approach may constitute a 
condition for sublime and spiritual experiences, rather than their abolition. 

However, it is precisely humanity’s failure to develop a spiritual maturity 
adequate to this new physical power that is Bergson’s concern. Though the 
accelerated industrial forms of mechanization had led to dramatic expansions in 
the speed and scale of human destruction, through global mechanized warfare 
and the imperialist-capitalist subjugation of much of the planetary population, 
this was not inevitable: mechanization in the industrial sense did not automati- 
cally have to serve and intensify the mechanizing war-instinct, though in so 
doing it may well have contributed to the pervasive illusion of its inevitability. 
Indeed, the course taken is, in ethical terms, but also from an evolutionary 
biological viewpoint, a ‘mistake’: ‘machinery, through a mistake at the points, 
has been switched on to a track at the end of which lies exaggerated luxury and 
comfort for the few, rather than liberation for all’ (MR: 309). 

In using a railway metaphor that alludes to both the train and the ability 
to control which track it runs on, Bergson re-emphasizes the fact that by 
‘mechanism’ he means both the actual machinery of industrialization, and the 
general tendency of human beings elaborated above. Mechanism, in the joint 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


sense of industry and the intelligence that organizes it, could, in the service of 
life, have ensured, first, food for all and, second, the elimination of large-scale 
violence. Instead, the ‘mistake at the points’ has taken mechanism in a different 
direction such that it increasingly threatens the destruction of humanity, either 
through the literal ending of lives, or through the large-scale reduction of life to 
a status approaching that of the mechanical. 

Bergson continues his account of mechanized humanity’s inability to wield 
adequately its newly acquired power through the image of a body that has 
suddenly undergone a dramatic increase in size. The great danger lies in the fact 

in this body, distended out of all proportion, the soul remains what it was, too 
small to fill it, too weak to guide it. Hence the gap between the two. Hence the 
tremendous social, political and international problems which are just so many 
definitions of this gap, and which provoke so many chaotic and ineffectual 
efforts to fill it. (MR: 310) 

This image of the distended cosmic body may further remind us that Bergson’s 
theme here - the question of modern and future humanity’s (in)ability to wield 
its newly acquired technological power - would soon be established as a major 
theme in science fiction. As we will see, many of Dick’s plots, especially in his 
early novels, can be read as documents of ‘chaotic and ineffectual efforts’ to 
address this gap between physical power and spiritual or moral maturity which 
resonate with an array of twentieth-century governmental strategies. 

Where then, for Bergson, are we to find the ‘bigger soul’ that is needed to 
match this enlarged body? Where are the ‘new reserves of potential energy - 
moral energy this time’ (MR: 310) that would be equivalent to the material 
reserves of fossil fuels and atomic power? Bergson associates the outlook that 
would meet these requirements with a certain mysticism - though he is careful 
to distinguish what he refers to as ‘true mysticism’ from the ‘counterfeit’ forms 
which were already by the early twentieth century being criticized for their 
association with imperialist political programmes, and which would soon after 
come to be associated with Nazism and fascism (MR: 310-11). True mysticism 
is for Bergson completely incompatible with those counterfeit forms which 
link a deity or divine power exclusively to a particular human group (MR: 
311). It is, rather, characterized by an open as opposed to a closed morality, by 
a universalizing as opposed to a particularizing predisposition. Considering 
the figure Bergson refers to as the true mystic in more detail should give us a 
clearer understanding of what for him is at stake in the task of opposing modern 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

mechanization - in particular, why it is not a task that can be addressed through 
any approach that invokes a simple opposition between the material and the 
spiritual, between immanence and transcendence. Further, it will allow us to see 
how fabulation may - and perhaps must - be expected to play a key role in this 

True mysticism: Immanent salvation 

Bergson’s two forms of morality, each with its own biological origin, also have 
their own respective affective characters, equating to two kinds of love. Whereas 
the citizens of the closed society may feel a kind of love for their fellow-citizens 
that is the result of shared traits and interests and the biological pressure 
towards social coherence (expressed in demonstrations of familial or tribal 
bonds, nationalist pride, religious ritual and so on), the kind of love associated 
with open morality is characterized by universal acceptance and an unreserved, 
expansive love extending through and beyond all specific individuals, indeed, 
potentially beyond the limits of any conventional understanding of humanity or 
even life. The former is associated with contentment, the latter with joy. 

Doubtless most people have the potential for both kinds of affect, and a 
mixture of the two are probably common. However, it seems reasonable to 
suggest that it would be quite difficult for most people to live their lives consist- 
ently according to an open rather than closed morality. This would entail, to 
a large extent, the abandonment of long-acquired ties to particular groups, 
and the relinquishing, to a degree, of the protection of the closed society; in a 
world largely dominated by closed morality, to be unreservedly open is, almost 
certainly, to open oneself to abuse and exploitation. 

Thus while moments of ‘opening’ may be widely experienced, the figure 
who is able to maintain such a perspective indefinitely, with confidence and 
intensity, is quite rare. Bergson identifies possible historical examples of such 
‘true mystics’ in, for example, Jesus of Nazareth, Joan of Arc and Teresa of Avila. 
The scarcity of such individuals should in itself be a testament to the extreme 
difficulties humanity faces if it is to have any hope of continuing to suppress the 
war-instinct sufficiently in order to survive. Nevertheless, their existence at all 
suggests that such an achievement is not impossible. 

Bergson describes as ‘static religion’ those forms which emerge in, or with, 
the closed society. This phrase indicates an affiliation with the biological 
tendency towards closure (by this point it should be clear that Bergson’s ‘two 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


sources’ correspond to modes not only of morality and religion, but also of 
social formation, love, identity, and other dimensions of human life). Like the 
tendency within life to produce self-enclosed species, static religion supports 
the constitution of the closed society, strengthening the sense of closed morality 
and group unity through, for example, the development of ritual, doctrine and 
narratives (which form the basis for future laws and more complex codes of 
social behaviour). True mysticism, however, represents a reconnection with the 
vital creative force that caused new forms to emerge and proliferate - the second 
source, that of the open tendency. To the extent that this results in religion, it 
should be considered ‘dynamic religion. Many of the traits we associate with 
religion in general, according to this schema, are seen as specific to static 
religion, making the true mystic as anti-religious as she is religious. Whether 
imagined or real, the true mystic is the figure who helps us ‘get back into the 
creative impetus, and impel human nature forward instead of letting it revolve 
on one spot’ (MR: 199). Any transcendence associated with mysticism and 
dynamic religion comes not from a deity, but through the acquired capacity 
for overcoming one’s previous limitations, for reintroducing change, evolution, 
movement into what had become static. 

In broad terms, a philosophical position of immanence is concerned with 
arguing that there is only one plane of reality; that nothing exists in a separate 
dimension, exterior to this worldly plane. Though it is generally viewed in 
opposition to a perspective involving transcendence (in a manner paralleling 
but not identical with the opposition between materialist and idealist perspec- 
tives), we can conceive of a compatible form of transcendence that would really 
only mark the difference between two notions of possibility or ability - that 
is, for example, between the ability to speak a foreign language and the ability 
to learn to speak that language given enough time; the difference hinges on 
whether one takes a static view of an individual or state (at a particular instant) 
or a dynamic view allowing for its continual change over time. 

This is not to suggest that there is no hint of something like transcendence 
in the more religious sense involved here. When a change is so drastic as to 
be considered impossible within a given time-frame, its occurrence is rightly 
treated as ‘miraculous’, whether this entails a belief in the working of super- 
natural forces or consists of a metaphorical expression connoting the extreme 
improbability of the event that has taken place. The thought or experience of 
transcendence, as the above account of fabulation suggests, should be under- 
stood as a constitutive part of immanent reality, and as a component with the 
capacity to bring about concrete and occasionally hugely unlikely effects. Yet 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

this should not be viewed as confirming the validity of an influential line of 
criticism of Bergson which has seen philosophers from Russell to Badiou claim 
that Bergson’s vitalism itself involves an irreducibly transcendent dimension. (In 
relation to this criticism, see the discussion of Bergson and Badiou in Chapter 
3, where I argue that their respective conceptions of life are quite compatible, 
if not convergent, at least with regard to their potential ethico-political valency 
and efficacy.) Especially in light of this common (mis)perception, it is worth 
emphasizing the extent to which Bergson’s true mystic is a worldly figure. 

The reason Bergson hesitates to include the figure of Buddha among his 
examples of true mystics is his supposed retirement from (or renunciation 
of) the world.® Likewise, the mysticism of Plotinus for Bergson failed to reach 
full maturity due to a lack of faith in action (MR: 225-6), even if it attains an 
experience of ecstasy which may well constitute the reconnection of the open 
soul with ‘the creative effort which life itself manifests’ (MR: 220). Where the 
classical Greek intellectualism represented by Plotinus has a reverence for 
pure thought which views action as ‘a weakening of contemplation (MR: 221), 
Bergson sees fully realized mysticism as being 

expressed in the bent for action, the faculty of adapting and re-adapting oneself 
to circumstances, in firmness combined with suppleness, in the prophetic 
discernment of what is possible and what is not, in the spirit of simplicity which 
triumphs over complications, in a word, supreme good sense. (MR: 228) 

This ‘spirit of simplicity’ is fundamental to the attitude which gives the mystic 
an (often surprising) aptitude for accomphshment through direct worldly 
action. It causes her to ignore ‘false problems’, implicitly answering questions 
that have ‘force [d] themselves on the attention of philosophers’ and regarding 
as non-existent problems which ‘should never have perplexed philosophers’ 
(MR: 251). 

Testament to the bent for action of the true mystic is found in ‘what was 
accomplished in the field of action by a St Paul, a St Teresa, a St Catherine of 
Siena, a St Francis, a Joan of Arc’ (MR: 228). Again, the extraordinary achieve- 
ments of such figures can indeed seem to give them a miraculous or divine 
power. Yet Bergson’s argument is that this in fact reflects a deeply practical 
ability based on ‘an exceptional, deep-rooted mental healthiness’ (MR: 228), 
and which is ultimately rooted in a biological rather than a divine source. Such 
figures do not transcend the world, but surpass the limits of a particular type of 
human with a particular view of the world - one that is based on false problems 
and the dominant fabulations of the closed society. If this creates the impression 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


of superhuman ability, it nevertheless entails no necessary action or event that 
would be beyond immanent reality. 

In recent years, conceptions of the posthuman have offered a number of 
ways of exploring such a perspective. Particularly relevant here is Bruce Clarke’s 
notion of the ‘evolutionary sublime’, in which ‘the human species finds it consum- 
mation [...] by absorption into a transcendental posthuman consortium’ (2008: 
191). For Bergson, the true mystic, in ‘breaking the circle’ of closed morality 
and re-identifying with the larger, ongoing, dynamic evolution of life, effectively 
becomes ‘a species composed of a single individual’ (MR: 268), and indeed, the 
appearance of each true mystic is ‘like the creation of a new species’ (MR: 95). 
Clarke is referring to a kind of biocultural evolution brought about by cross- 
species bonding, which is central to Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, and 
which, as mentioned above, has through Margulis’ work on endosymbiosis 
been recognized as likely to have been a major factor in the evolution of life on 
earth. With Bergson’s true mystic, we do not see the bonding of two species, but 
in that the open soul reconnects with a creative tendency running through all 
life, we can say there is effectively a virtual hybridization or coupling with any 
- and therefore (virtually) all - species, which although not ‘consummated’ as 
it is in Clarke’s Butlerian scenario, is nevertheless maintained by ‘a great surge 
of love’ (MR: 95). This notion of an evolutionary sublime, and of the combining 
of separate species as an evolutionary engine, resonates with many aspects of 
Dick’s work that are discussed in subsequent chapters of this book, in particular 
the notion that his communications with Valis or Zebra represent a form of 
‘cross-bonding’ between biological and informational entities. 

An incomplete soteriology 

In that Two Sources concerns the question of preserving humanity from its 
(self-)destruction, in circumstances where this seems a near-impossible task, it 
can be understood as an attempt to pursue a path or logic of salvation. This is, as 
I have suggested, a notion of salvation that should be viable within an immanent 
understanding of the world - yet one which remains salvation nonetheless. 
Thus Two Sources can be said to develop, among other things, an immanent 
soteriology. The value of the true mystic lies in her ability to span this seemingly 
insuperable separation between immanence and transcendence, which corre- 
sponds to the gap between modern humanity’s distended body and its small 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

soul (MR: 31 1) in constituting ‘an individual being, capable of transcending the 
limitations imposed on the species by its material nature’ (MR: 210-11). 

Yet even Bergson admits that ‘it will be just as well not to count too much 
on the coming of a great privileged soul’ (MR: 312). No immanent soteriology 
can rely on the arrival of an absolutely transcendent figure from another 
world, whether Christ or Superman. The historical appearance of true mystics 
is rare and unpredictable, and true mysticism as a concept or attitude, even 
if conceived without a dependence on divine or supernatural qualities, does 
not appear to be one that is easy to adopt or maintain. The ‘bent for action 
characterizing the true mystic entails a practicality of an unusual kind: it is not 
through a great focus on practical problems, but by ignoring them (and thus 
revealing the extent to which they may be considered false problems) that the 
mystic is able to step over obstacles that would seem insurmountable to most 
of us. Even if the creative impetus whose intuition gives this figure her unusual 
capability is immanent within every living organism, a life lived continually 
‘in touch with this impetus would seem to be practically impossible for most 
humans. And yet, for the open society to have a chance of emerging, or even 
for the closed society to begin ‘opening’ in any effective way, this quality would, 
according to Bergson’s argument, have to be possessed by a large proportion of 
the population. How is it possible to seek salvation - from a very material threat 
of destruction - through the emulation of a figure for whom practical obstacles 
do not exist? Is there not something missing, here, right at the heart of Bergson’s 

The problem here does not lie in identifying the social changes that need to 
occur. The following all appear in the ‘Final Remarks’ of Two Sources as quite 
reasonable goals which, if they could be achieved, would bring us most of the 
way towards the larger aim of overcoming the critical threat of mechanization: 
the abolition of war (MR: 286-90); the abandonment of ‘the concern for 
comfort and luxury which has apparently become the main preoccupation of 
humanity’ (MR: 298); the reversal of the subservience of agriculture to industry 
in order to ensure the universal fulfilment of the basic needs for survival (MR: 
306); establishing gender equality (MR: 302-3); and broadening the scope of 
scientific research to include the spiritual (MR: 312-17). 

Most of these goals would be shared by a variety of critical political traditions, 
in Bergson’s time as today. The great difficulty is not working out what needs to 
be done on an abstract level (stop killing, feed everyone, treat each other well) 
but figuring out how to get enough people to adopt such goals, and to agree 
on an effective means of achieving them. Since this would necessarily involve 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


the negation of a mechanizing tendency that is, as we have seen, implicit in the 
fundamental activity of intelligence, this is an incredibly difficult task - more so, 
perhaps, than even the most ethically or critically disposed often recognize. It is 
this difficulty which causes the thought of overcoming mechanization to involve 
an ineradicable dimension of salvation, of transcendence, even as this process is 
ultimately centred on the material preservation of life. 

How then is this transcendent dimension to be maintained without the 
true mystic? It is here, I would suggest, that we ought to return to fabulation 
in seeking an answer. Although Bergson does not indicate this directly, the 
argument of Two Sources seems to point towards it from a number of angles. His 
overt discussion of the role of fabulation is almost entirely restricted to the sphere 
of static religion and the closed society. As we have seen, its original function 
and effect was to diminish the threats posed by the mechanizing characteristics 
of the individualistic intellect from destroying social cohesion. The cultural 
formations which it facilitated and continues to support in order to fulfil this 
function then become central to a closed morality which, while preserving 
life within a social group, reproduces the destructive tendencies of mechani- 
zation at an inter-social level. Yet to reject fabulation on this basis is to forget 
its primary role. Indeed, Bergson highlights this error of excess in situations 
where mysticism is rejected as a tool of imperialism - just as associations with 
the mystical, transcendent or religious have frequently been denounced since 
as supporting capitalism, fascism and other ideological structures. Generalized 
reactions of this kind tend to equate mysticism with mystification, whereas one 
does not necessarily imply the other. Likewise, to abandon fabulation as the 
facilitator of mechanization is to give up the saving potential that it offers, and 
which, I will argue, may well ultimately be invaluable in the struggle against the 
destructive power of modern mechanization. 

Near the end of Two Sources, Bergson reminds the reader that the relationship 
between mechanization and mysticism - and, implicitly therefore, between 
mechanization and fabulation - is not one of a simple opposition: 

The origins of the process of mechanization are indeed more mystical than 
we might imagine. Machinery will find its true vocation again, it will render 
services in proportion to its power, only if mankind, which it has bowed still 
lower to the earth, can succeed, through it, in standing erect and looking 
heavenwards. (MR: 310) 

Ostensibly Bergson is referring here to the machinery of the factory, of 
industrialization. He is accounting for a certain spirit of inventiveness that 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

historically leads to modern technological advancement, yet is not easily 
separable from a wide range of spiritual and moral ideals. The suggestion is 
that industry may still, if properly organized, become a liberating rather than 
mechanizing force with regard to life. Yet in light of the more general sense of 
mechanization that I have emphasized, this statement may simultaneously be 
read as indicating that there is something inherent to those same oppressive 
mechanizing processes which might, if properly re-appropriated, offer the 
possibility of liberation. Fabulation would fit this description perfectly, as that 
which enables the global mechanization of humanity, by virtue of its role in 
the growth of closed morality and closed societies, yet which does so only on 
the basis of a prior salvific potential which these developments should not be 
allowed to eclipse. 

Just as we should not blame science or technology for the uses to which they 
have been put - just as industrial production needs to be set on a new footing 
in the service of life and the open society - we should not confuse fabulation 
with specific ways it has been used. Fabulation too is a form of mechanism, 
an evolved faculty for constructing and believing in fictions which have the 
potential to save. When Bergson says that ‘man will rise above earthly things 
only if a powerful equipment supplies him with the requisite fulcrum’ (MR: 
309) he may be referring not only to the possibility of effecting a more ethical 
organization of industrial technology, but also to the spiritual or moral technol- 
ogies that may be required to bring this about: fabulation itself may well be the 
‘powerful equipment’ that is required to ‘rise above earthly things’ - which is, 
after all, its fundamental function. 

It is in this light that I read the last line of Two Sources: it is the task of 
humans, once they have determined whether they wish ‘to go on living or not’, 
to decide ‘if they want merely to live, or intend to make just the extra effort 
required for fulfilling, even on their refractory planet, the essential function 
of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods’ (MR: 317). The 
making of gods can be understood as humanity’s becoming-mystic - the 
evolution into the new species which is encapsulated occasionally in human 
history by the figure of the true mystic, and to which all humanity would need 
to aspire in order to have a chance at overcoming mechanization. Yet this final 
sentence also concerns a machine, with a function that has specifically to do 
with humanity’s self-transcendence - to do with a kind of living that would be 
beyond ‘merely living’ {vivre seulement), and which would constitute a kind of 
salvation. Intentionally or not, this conclusion thus points towards a conver- 
gence between the fabulation function, itself a machine which creates saving 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


fictions, including gods, and what, in a poetic tone, Bergson calls the essential 
function of the universe. Could fabulation, the machine which constructs gods 
and saviours in a fictional but culturally and psychologically effective mode, be 
the key to making those who create and respond to such fictions into gods and 
saviours themselves? In other words, might not fabulation be the technique by 
which humanity’s self-transcendence, its salvation from its own mechanization, 
becomes conceivable? 

Fabulation for the open 

To begin exploring this possibility, before we move on to developing it more 
fully as both an active principle and a submerged theme in Dick’s work, we 
might consider what roles fabulation can already be expected to play within 
the activity of the true mystic as the embodiment of an open morality. No 
doubt, Bergson’s true mystic sees through the fabulated constructs of the closed 
society, especially where these lead to the oppression or mechanization of life, 
to forms of imperialism and abuse. But might not the mystic also make use of 
the great potential of fabulation towards her own ends? Would she, with such 
deep-rooted mental healthiness as Bergson attributes to her, reject one of the 
most powerful tools for salvation, on the basis that it has also led to oppression 
and violence? We should remember that the fictions which come to support 
closed morality may be a long way from the act of fictionalizing or fabulation 
that is at work in an immediate experience of the divine, or in the hallucination 
which saved the woman from falling into an empty lift shaft. Indeed, the huge 
difference which Bergson emphasizes in a wide range of contexts between the 
dynamic and the static, the closed and the open, could and should be applied to 
fabulation. The process of fabulation produces specific fictions which are taken 
up and passed on, elaborated and reduplicated, with certain elements becoming 
increasingly fixed across different re-tellings, solidifying as the counterparts 
of the religious or proto-religious institutions and doctrines that develop 
alongside them. They are the static fabulations of static religion, whereas the 
dynamic process of fabulating that gave rise to them corresponds to the attitude 
and morality of dynamic religion, in which an open, unbounded creativity is 
key. Just as Bergson critiqued, in Creative Evolution, the tendency to treat the 
series of particular evolved species as evolution itself, to identify the fictions 
invented and built into the fabric of cultural life by fabulation with the process 
of fabulating itself is to conflate two basically opposed tendencies. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

The more successfully the fabulations that become religious doctrine are 
integrated into everyday existence, the more they are treated as though belonging 
to concrete reality. In this sense, the situation in which closed morality threatens 
to bring about destruction on a scale that threatens the species (as, putatively, 
when many formerly isolated closed societies come into prolonged contact) is 
directly analogous to that of the threat posed by the intellect within a given social 
group. Like intellect with respect to the individual, closed morality encourages 
the collective within which it is shared to act purely in their own interests, at 
the expense of any outsiders. Conversely, the individualistic ego can be said to 
have constituted all along a closed morality operating within a closed society 
of one member. The organism-society analogy was almost fulfilled - were it 
not for the fact that fabulation was able to ‘open up’ this unicellular society 
for a brief period, or in a limited way, such that socially destructive tendencies 
were diverted and deferred. If this deferral led to the reproduction of analogous 
circumstances at a multicellular level, should fabulation not subsequently be 
able to reprise its role? 

When a true mystic - or indeed anyone critical of their socio-cultural 
environment - sees through the cultural fictions which are responsible for the 
spread and intensification of the mechanization of humans (and of the living 
in general), they are revealing as fictional that which had become apparent 
reality (or perhaps more accurately, rendering static fictions dynamic). Just as 
the woman approaching the empty lift shaft was rationally certain that the lift 
was there, the closed society often believes it is acting morally when it enslaves, 
attacks or otherwise abuses those outside its walls. In both cases, averting the 
threat to life - which means saving life - involves a counteracting of apparent 
reality, in which its salient aspects are revealed as fictional. In some sense, 
fabulation must always in some sense constitute meta-fabulation; the dynamic 
process of fabulating always operates against static fictions that have been falsely 
perceived as concrete, immutable reality. 

A mode of fabulation adequate to the task of working towards the open 
society would thus have to be one that recognizes and counters the static 
products of former fabulations. It would need to acknowledge the saving effects 
they once produced, while critiquing the mechanizing closed morality - and 
perceptions of reality in general - to which they have made essential contribu- 
tions. It would need to engage with the problematics of this process, of the ease 
with which the dynamic becomes static and with which anti-mechanizing (e.g. 
mystic, vitalistic, open) efforts give rise to mechanization in other forms and 
other sites; and it would need to develop strategies to prevent its own effects 

Fabulation: Counteracting Reality 


from inadvertently (re)producing mechanization elsewhere. This is what I 
believe we find in the writing, or rather, the fahulations of Philip K. Dick: a 
dynamic fabulating activity that emerges across a lifetime, becoming the driving 
force in an immanent soteriology, which, regardless of whether they are named, 
constitutes a prolonged search for both the open soul and the open society. 


The presentation of Bergson in this chapter, especially where connections are 
made between earlier and later aspects of his thought, may have given the 
false impression that his philosophy forms a systematic whole. He himself 
denied this. While there are many convergences and common, indeed mutually 
enhancing concepts, theories and lines of philosophical investigation across 
his works, these have more to do with something like organic cohesion - 
resonances and continuities arising from sustained efforts of thought - than an 
abstract, systematic framework. As Mullarkey emphasizes, Bergson insisted on 
an inherent vagueness to his key terms, a degree of ‘conceptual indefinability’ 
corresponding to the lack of systemacity in nature or reality; any term or concept 
that is too rigidly defined is likely to become useless, if not detrimental, to the 
intuitive method in its attempts ‘to adjust dynamically to reality’ (Mullarkey 
1999: 166). Bergson’s concepts are deployed dynamically as opposed to in static 
forms, in order to approach a better understanding, rather than awaiting their 
own verification. This applies to fabulation as much as to any other element of 
his work - including his attempt to make an ethical contribution to the future of 
human society, that which I have termed his immanent soteriology. 

If Bergson’s account of fabulation is inherently incomplete, the first reason, 
then, is that as a way of attempting to understand crucial aspects of society 
and culture, the theory or concept of fabulation should be subordinated to and 
malleable in the face of the reality it attempts to describe, rather than attempting 
to fit the facts to its own rigid and prescriptive model; that is, it should be a 
useful and adaptive tool in the dynamic process by which that reality gradually 
becomes clearer - rather than positing an immediately clear abstraction and 
reducing the real to it. But a second reason is that that reality is itself changing, 
not only from the perspective of a given psyche, but on a historical and global 
scale: if Two Sources is to participate usefully in an ongoing ethico-political 
project - the overcoming of war-instinct in the context of modern mecha- 
nization - its key concepts must be able to adapt as that context develops. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Despite its focus on the origins of society, religion and morality, Two Sources is 
ultimately a future-oriented project. Though what follows may be characterized 
as an attempt to address the incompleteness of Bergsons immanent soteriology 
by developing the understanding of fabulation through Dick’s work, ultimately 
such a project must aim to respect and maintain that incompleteness - which 
must be understood as constitutive of the openness of any genuine ethics. In this 
sense, Bergson’s incomplete soteriology is also a soteriology of incompleteness, 
in a sense that, ultimately, may also characterize that of Dick. 


Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 

In 1977, Dick wrote: ‘I never knew of, nor did I experience or write about, a 
salvific entity’ (E: 231). Yet in characteristic fashion, he immediately negated the 
statement by citing four or five of his previous works which do feature characters 
with some apparently transcendent saving power and function. In fact, salvation 
and saviour-figures can be identified throughout his work, starting long before 
the religious visions of 1974 that underpinned his late novels. As we will see, 
salvation in Dick’s work is consistently tied to (the threat of) mechanization, in 
both the industrial-technological sense, and in terms of the more general (in) 
human and physical tendencies which Bergson, as we saw in the last chapter, 
identifies as preceding it (e.g. the war-instinct, determinism, entropy, closed 
morality). Indeed, in the same paragraph from which the above quotation is 
taken, Dick highlights as his two grand themes’, false reality and ‘androids 
programmed to imagine they are human (i.e. self-determining)’ (E: 231), both 
of which are strongly linked to mechanization in its diverse forms. 

We have already touched on some of the ways mechanization and salvation 
can, broadly, be viewed as themes common to science fiction in general. The 
historical rise of mechanization, in the industrial sense, forms a major part 
of the backdrop for the cultural emergence of science fiction as a modern 
genre, as well as inspiring many of its staple props and conceits. The theme of 
salvation has likewise played a central role in several of the main strands of 
science fiction, where the threatened destruction of a people or world becomes 
a generic plot scenario across a variety of its forms: not only do space opera, 
apocalyptic science fiction, dystopian fiction, superhero narratives and many 
other sub-genres typically take such threats as core plot elements, but they also 
frequently feature an overtly or covertly messianic protagonist charged with the 
task of averting disaster. Yet what I find particular to Dick is an engagement 
with these themes which links them to fabulation: not only thematically or 
in terms of plot, but in that the fiction or narrative itself effectively begins to 
perform a soteriological function. That is, Dick’s most powerful writing operates 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

in what, towards the end of the previous chapter, I suggested may be considered 
a dynamic or open mode of fabulation, which both obliterates and re-energizes 
static closed fictions which have become fixed aspects of reality (whether in a 
cultural, psychological, historical, or some other register). The function of this 
operation is to seek out possible modes and forms of salvation, though crucially, 
ones that would be viable within an immanent worldview. 

The dynamic dimension of Dick’s fabulations is less overt in the earlier works 
considered in this chapter, which remain closer (though by no means bound) to 
the science fiction conventions of the time and climate within which Dick began 
his career. The aim here will be to establish an overview of the thematic triangle 
mechanization-salvation-fabulation in Dick’s work, before using it as a basis for 
the explorations of dynamic fabulation in the extended readings of particular 
novels that are the focus of subsequent chapters. In those readings, we will see 
how Dick’s work pursues the question and possibility of immanent salvation 
through the opening up of closed (static) fictions which make up dominant 
reality, in contexts such as the nature of the human in relation to its perceived 
others, the experience of history, and the relationship between the divine and 
the mundane. Yet we may still observe in the earlier novels discussed in this 
chapter elements of at least an incipient mode of dynamic fabulation with regard 
to the genre of science fiction itself 

Critics have often discussed what they take to be Dick’s subversions of the 
modes of traditional science fiction, suggesting for example that he writes 
‘meta-SF’, ‘distorting and modifying’ its narrative devices (Pagetti 1992: 25); that 
his writing ‘acts as a critique of the ideological presuppositions of the SF genre’ 
(Fitting 1992b: 42); that he is ‘an enthusiastic rather than a conventional writer 
of SF, so that he exploits the conventions of the genre rather than obeying them’ 
(Palmer 2003: vii). Whatever conventional aspects of science fiction Dick’s 
writing subverts might, in the Bergsonian sense, be considered ‘closed’, that is, 
representing the ossified results of a creative process of invention which had, 
in certain places and instances, ceased to evolve. To this extent, any attempt 
to subvert them can be seen as an attempt to undo this closure. Thus even if 
mechanization and salvation are already, in various forms, themes associated 
with a number of staples of the science fiction genre, we find that Dick’s own 
uses of these forms, even in his early fiction, begin to subvert or open them to 
possible functions and associations that had been closed off from them in their 
becoming-generic. In this way, he already begins to develop the techniques 
which, I will argue, evolve into a more fully soteriological mode of open or 
dynamic fabulation. 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


We can already see in the triangulation of mechanization, salvation and 
fabulation at work in the four novels from the 1950s discussed here, the 
emergence of certain recurrent implied questions that will become crucial for 
Dick’s fabulative soteriology: what are the necessary conditions for producing 
an open society that will resist the tendency to revert to closure? How does one 
seek salvation within an immanent understanding of reality? What mistakes 
arise from confusing a particular example or form of mechanization with 
mechanization in general? What are the possibilities and dangers of using 
fabulation to overcome seemingly insurmountable dangers? These are formula- 
tions - articulated here in a Bergsonian vocabulary - of problems with which 
Dick engages, both implicitly and overtly, throughout his life and work. 

Solar Lottery (1972 [ 1955 ]) 

Many of Dick’s narratives, especially in his earlier novels, take place against the 
background of the rise of mechanization in its most overt forms - war (global 
or interplanetary) and hyper-industrialization, along with their catastrophic 
effects. They are often set in the years following a Third World War that has 
heavily reduced the population, as in The World Jones Made (1993b [1956]), 
Vulcan’s Hammer (1976c [I960]), The Game-Players of Titan (1991b [1963]) and 
Dr Bloodmoney (2000a [1965]) - or in the middle of such a war that appears to 
be ongoing - as in Time Out of Joint (2003c [1959]) and The Penultimate Truth 
(1978 [1964]). To an extent, this reflects the dominant images of mechanization 
that inspired social anxiety in Dick’s own Western culture in the years following 
the Second World War. As Warrick writes, the horrifying memories of the 
nuclear holocaust and the continuing of international crises made it impos- 
sible to ignore the destructive powers of modern technology. Not surprisingly, 
much of Dick’s early fiction mirrors this world of military unrest and techno- 
logical mistrust (1987: 5). Yet the theme of Cold War fears does not come close 
to exhausting the ways mechanization is at work in Dick’s 1950s and early 
1960s novels. Against the background of the threat of humanity’s destruction 
through warfare, the novels’ main characters, and indeed whole societies, are 
threatened by mechanization in a range of other forms: exaggerated levels of 
industrialization and bureaucracy, conventional science fiction dangers such as 
the replacement of humans by androids and robots, paranoid supercomputers 
trying to take over the world, and, crucially, more physical and metaphysical 
mechanizing forces, such as determinism and entropy. Perhaps the most 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

recognizably Dickian of these forms is ‘androidization’, the term which, as I 
suggested in the Introduction, Dick uses to refer both to the ‘becoming alive’ 
of the increasingly machinic environment, and the becoming-mechanistic 
(predictable, lacking empathy) of the human (Dick 1995c: 183, 191) - provided 
we recognize this concern with the artificial human as a partial subset of Dick’s 
virtually constant theme, the artificial (re) construction of the real. 

In the imagined future world of Solar Lottery (1972 [1955]), one of Dick’s 
most popular 1950s novels, industrialization has apparently brought about 
its own demise through over-production: ‘in the early twentieth century 
the problem of production had been solved; after that it was the problem of 
consumption that plagued society’ (19). This led first to panicked reactions such 
as the mass burning of luxury goods, and then, by a ‘gradual and profound’ 
process, to a more over-arching transformation of the dominant worldview (20). 
This somewhat vague set-up seems to have the main function of enabling the 
socio-cultural scenario which really frames the action of the novel, one in which 
the whole human species, we are to understand, has undergone something like a 
total crisis of self-confidence: ‘Nothing seemed stable or fixed; the universe was 
a sliding flux’ (20). This is not a Herachtean acceptance of the dynamic nature of 
the world, but an experience of chaos resulting from the breakdown of former 
certainties, which in Bergsonian terms amounts to the collapse of the stabilizing 
influences of closed morality: ‘Nobody could count on anything . . . People lost 
faith in the belief that they could control their environment’ (20). 

In setting up this scenario, Dick thus imagines a future recurrence of 
something like the conditions depicted in many imagined accounts of human 
prehistory, whereby the figure of the human finds itself dominated by natural 
forces, possessing only a negligible capacity to exercise any control. In Bergson’s 
account of the emergence of religion, such a situation is what led humans to 
fabulate environmental forces that are amenable to influence, and from which 
evolved the larger religious systems that came to dominate much of human 
history. Though there is currently no reason to think Dick had read or even 
encountered Bergson’s Two Sources, he was quite familiar with accounts of 
animism and the so-called ‘primitive’ mind in modern psychology (Dick 
1995c: 183). If such accounts of ‘primitive’ humanity’s helplessness seem to 
have proliferated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this 
may have much to do with an equivalent widespread experience of existential 
uncertainty belonging to the era of modern secularization and industrialization 
- the condition which Durkheim termed anomie, the experience of the loss of 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


formerly guiding social norms. This may thus also be considered an implied 
referent of the Solar Lottery scenario. 

The collective response to the lack of control brought about by randomness 
has been to embrace it: ‘Statistical prediction became popular [...] the very 
concept of cause and effect died out’ (20). At the institutional level, the result 
of this is the adoption of the ‘lottery’ system as the means of electing the 
global leader: any (legally recognized) citizen may supposedly be elected to 
the supreme office of ‘Quizmaster’ by the ‘twitching’ of a randomized machine 
known as ‘the bottle’. In depicting a society which has lost faith in one of its 
most basic tenets, that of the relationship between cause and effect, Dick can 
also be read as extending to the whole of humanity a particular aspect of his 
own young experience, which he would later describe in very similar terms: 
‘in my worldview (head) there is no appreciation or recognition of causality as 
normally understood - and I recall that dilemma when I was 19 and found I 
simply could literally not see causality - while all other people do’ (E 241 [27:3]). 
We may well see here the source of, or at least an early catalyst for, a tendency 
which, by the time of the Exegesis, had been expanded to almost every area of 
Dick’s life: in what he experiences as the absence of causality, that is, the lack 
of an ability to understand why things happen and to act upon the world so 
that predictable effects result, he requires external agents to make decisions 
for him. In earlier Exegesis entries he makes several claims not to have written 
most of his books (‘Nobody wrote them. The goddam typewriter wrote them; 
it’s a magic typewriter’; E 22 [4: 41]); or to have been the medium for another 
agent, usually the living informational entity or force whose nature he ostensibly 
undertakes the writing of the Exegesis in order to understand. In fact, as early as 
1962 Dick was consulting the I Ching for help in developing the plot of one of 
his most critically acclaimed works. The Man in the High Castle (1965 [1962]) 
(Sutin 1991: 109-10). 

The fact that an absence of mechanical causation can lead Dick and the 
society of Solar Lottery to believe simultaneously in both randomness and 
superstitious agency as responsible for the course of events points to a certain 
equivalence, at least from a phenomenological or psychological point of view, 
between attributing events to ‘chance’, and to an external, quasi-transcendent 
agency. Bergson makes precisely this point in Two Sources, arguing that even 
when we use the term ‘chance’ to recognize that ‘everything is capable of 
mechanical explanation, there is underlying it a ‘spontaneous, semi-conscious 
thought, which superimposes on the mechanical sequence of cause and effect 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

something totally different’; thus mechanism is treated ‘as though possessing an 
intention’ (MR: 148). In this light, the adoption of a lottery to ‘select’ the leader 
of the government can be regarded as equivalent to relying on a sign from God, 
to the extent that they are both ways of relinquishing the activity of decision- 
making while allowing the outcome of a decision nonetheless to be produced 
(in both cases, the act of decision-making is replaced by a virtual or fictional 
version of itself). Thus, as one character in the novel declares, becoming 
dependent on random chance has turned everyone into ‘superstitious fools’, 
constantly on the look-out for harbingers and collecting all manner of magic 
charms (59). 

More religious forms of fabulation have not disappeared entirely from the 
world of Solar Lottery, however, and there remains a very small portion of the 
population who have responded to their loss of meaning and control in a more 
traditional way, by developing a new, quasi-religious sense of destiny. John 
Preston is a crackpot/visionary who, some time prior to the main events of the 
novel, claimed to have mystical knowledge of the existence of a habitable plane 
just outside the known solar system, which he named Flame Disc. Though 
Preston himself has not been seen since he departed in search of his legendary 
new world, and is widely believed to have perished somewhere out in space, 
a small group calling themselves the Preston Society has formed around his 
teachings - in particular the belief that humanity’s chances of survival lie in 
the right (i.e. sufficiently enlightened) people finding Flame Disc and founding 
a new society. With no empirical evidence either in Preston’s writings or 
elsewhere to back up his assertions, the Prestonites’ endeavour - to pool their 
resources and, in contravention of political and legal rulings prohibiting space 
exploration, set out to find and colonize Flame Disc - is based entirely on faith. 

Each of these strategies, the lottery system and the utopian quest, can be 
understood as an attempt to use fabulation to find salvation - from a mecha- 
nistic existence. Furthermore, each has as its starting point the collapse of the 
dominant cultural fictions of the closed society, and attempts to create a new, 
open society, in which all members will be genuinely equal. Thus both can 
be seen to gesture towards a mode of open or dynamic fabulation, and even 
if neither attempt can be considered successful, the flaws in each strategy are 
informative for understanding the challenges that such a mode might have to 

Much of the novel’s action revolves around the flawed nature of the lottery 
system, as the main characters engage in a series of struggles to gain the kinds of 
social and political advantages that it is supposed to rule out. This is principally 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


achieved by developing means of overcoming randomness - rendering unpre- 
dictable processes determinate once again - while attempting to decrease the 
predictive capacity of their opponents. The engineer Leon Cartwright, a member 
of the Preston Society, achieves this by rigging the mechanics of the lottery 
system, while the Quizmaster he replaces, Reese Verrick, uses more traditional 
forms of political corruption and violence, including attempting to assassinate 
Cartwright. The outcome of their power struggle becomes dependent on who 
is best able to thwart (or manipulate) the laws of determinism and probabihty. 
Though this is most prominent in their attempts to overcome the huge odds 
which the lottery system stacks against every individual, it is a struggle that 
permeates the whole narrative. For example, Verrick’s assassination attempt 
on Cartwright relies heavily on catching the target by surprise. Cartwright has 
a team of telepathic guards to help protect him against attacks by detecting 
would-be assassins before they can get near. However, Verrick tops this counter- 
strategy by sending as his assassin a mechanical humanoid shell which may be 
‘inhabited’ from a distance by any one of a number of human operators, who are 
switched in and out at random. At any given moment, the assassins intentions 
and plans are thus subject to radical change, rendering ‘him’ deeply unpre- 
dictable, even for telepaths. 

As these struggles play out, it becomes quite clear that the lottery system is 
a failure as a means of creating an equal society. The obvious problem - that a 
particularly incompetent or tyrannical ruler might randomly be given power 
over everyone - is at least partially countered by the limited term of office, 
which seems to be unpredictable. The lottery system attempts to mechanically 
engineer something like the open society, by taking both the capacity and the 
responsibility for selecting a leader out of human hands. Though this constitutes 
an ingenious strategy for preventing the power-hungry from acquiring power, 
a common destructive trait among political systems, it does little to address an 
equally ubiquitous obstacle - that people may not adhere to its rules. Indeed, 
the widespread belief that the system is fair - which the actions of both Verrick 
and Cartwright reveal to be a fiction - almost automatically gives an advantage 
to whoever is able and willing to alter the system. Thus the lottery strategy 
correctly conceives of the source of the problem - that which Bergson terms the 
war-instinct; its flaw is in the presumption that it is possible to take this entirely 
out of the picture. 

Cartwright and the Preston Society have an alternative strategy for attempting 
to create something like an open society, which necessarily also begins with the 
recognition that the existing system’s apparent fairness is an illusion, a fiction. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Cartwright explains to the protagonist Ted Benteley how he realized that ‘the 
rules were set up so I couldn’t win. Who wants to play that kind of game? 
We’re betting against the house, and the house always wins’ (177). Thus, like 
Verrick, Cartwright decided to alter the rules: ‘I said to myself, what sort of 
rules would be better? I sat down and worked them out. From then on I played 
according to them, as if they were already in operation (178). As we saw in 
the previous chapter, fabulation’s primary function is to construct hitherto 
non-existent alternatives in seeming no-win situations. Cartwright imagined 
different rules, and through playing by them (which entailed re-engineering the 
lottery mechanism), brought them into effect. This (counter-)fabulation consti- 
tutes a technical and moral attempt to harness the fictionalizing power by which 
the closed society has maintained itself, in order to push it in the direction of a 
more open form. 

Cartwright’s recognition of the transformative power of fabulation was also 
the motivation behind his early decision to follow Preston. His intervention 
in the lottery system is geared not towards acquiring power for himself, but 
towards enabling the members of the Preston Society to escape the galaxy in 
search of their mythic Flame Disc. As Cartwright says, ‘Preston saw through the 
rules too. He wanted what I wanted, a game in which everybody stood a chance 
of winning’ (178). By the end of the novel, the Prestonites have reached their 
destination, though there is no reason to believe that they will therefore succeed 
in building an open society. The narrative ends with this question quite evenly 
balanced, as they encounter a holographic projection of the now long-dead John 
Preston. He urges them, in terms which seem to echo the language of Bergson’s 
Creative Evolution, ‘[t]o spread out, reach areas, experiences, comprehend and 
live in an evolving fashion. To push aside routine and repetition, to break out 
of mindless monotony and thrust forward. To keep moving on ...’ (188). On 
the one hand, this sounds very much like a description of the force embodied 
in Bergson’s true mystic, who reconnects with the open, creative tendency at 
the heart of life, breaking out of the closed circles of repetition. However, the 
tone may also remind us of those expansionist discourses which have so often 
accompanied physical acts of colonization, enslavement and inter-societal 
violence during the course of humanity’s Earth-bound history. Thus, even 
as their reaching out towards the stars may present itself as a movement of 
openness, it might equally be interpreted as an attempt to render the Preston 
Society a fully closed society, absolutely cut off from the rest of humanity (one 
whose ethical openness may only then last for as long as they remain physically 
isolated). At this level, the conclusion of Dick’s narrative taps into a dichotomy 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


already at work in the burgeoning space race, with its strange conflation of the 
struggle for technological and military supremacy, with the dream of reaching 
other worlds and new forms of life. 

If there is an incipient form of dynamic fabulation at work here, I would 
suggest it is most discernible in the absence of any flnal authorial judgement on 
Prestons call to ‘keep moving on . . The novel closes with these words, at the 
end of a passage consisting mostly of dialogue. One can read Prestons speech as 
a conventional science Action paean to the human urge to expand and explore 
the universe, or equally as an implicit critique of that urge as an ongoing attempt 
to bring the world under human control, to mechanize and exploit it under the 
cover of noble ideals. The latter possibility is raised by the fact that these words 
emerge from a holographic representation of Preston as a paralysed old man 
(in reality already dead), unaware of his (its) listeners (188). Does his weakness, 
coupled with his ignorance of those he is attempting to inspire, undermine the 
strength of his message, or does he himself embody humanity’s unquenchable 
drive to survive, to continue growing, however great the obstacles? The narrator 
or author gives us no interpretive clues or suggestions, leaving the flnal words 
to the inhuman hologram, and it seems that our only option is to accept the 
ambiguity. Yet in doing so, we may have cause to reflect on the relationship 
between these two seemingly opposing tendencies, and question whether 
their sources are really so disparate. The expansionist drive, which in human 
history has become such a mechanizing force, may yet have its roots in a 
creative openness that constitutes both a biological and ethical willingness 
to reach out towards the radically other, and to seek self-renewal and self- 
transformation through such contact. This raises the possibility of reactivating 
this dynamic tendency that has been heavily restricted and ossifled within the 
static, mechanizing, forms to which it has given rise (imperialism, colonization, 
conquest, etc.). At the same time, it reminds us how easily an ethical outlook 
rooted in openness to alterity can be transformed into its opposite, a closed, 
mechanizing force. 

Whether the Flame Disc settlers will inaugurate a new path for humanity 
leading towards its salvation, or a continuation of the mechanizing tendency 
they seek to escape, is an absolutely open question. The task they (and the 
readers) face is to accept their capacity to determine which way they will go - to 
decide, as Bergson puts it, whether or not they wish to go beyond ‘mere living’. 
Ultimately it may be that this ambiguity is a fundamental requirement of any 
attempt to construct an open society, just as incompleteness may need to be 
built in to an adequately immanent soteriology. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

The World Jones Made (1993b [1956]) 

Like many of Dick’s novels, Jones is set in the aftermath of a third global war: 
in this world, the Cold War had become hot, with China and the USA as 
the main antagonists. Following the end of hostilities, the remainder of the 
human race, still suffering the effects of radioactive fallout, is in the process 
of rebuilding, mostly starting from the rural areas which have been seen the 
least destruction - a scenario which Dick would develop more fully and with 
complex utopian sensibilities in Dr Bloodmoney, as explored by Fredric Jameson 
(1992) among others. As in Solar Lottery, fear of destruction through warfare 
has led to a radical transformation of the social structure. At the centre of this 
transformation is the universal adoption of ‘Relativism’ as a core legal and moral 
doctrine, stringently enforced by a brutal police state. Relativism forbids any 
person from treating as true that which is uncertain: all expressions of opinion, 
personal belief, all religious or other unproven views are banned. 

This may thus effectively be understood as a ban on tabulation, or at least 
on belief in the fictional, understood as that which is not (at least within the 
official perspective of the governing authorities) demonstrably, empirically real. 
The reasoning behind Relativism is that all disagreements, and therefore all 
wars, are based on differences between people(s). To an extent, this implies a 
recognition of the role played by fictionalizing in the closed morality that fuels 
inter-societal wars. Yet it also constitutes a failure to appreciate that tabulation 
plays such a fundamental role in human existence that it will remain a factor in 
determining the path taken by a society, regardless of any conscious or cultural 

Though it is practically impossible fully to obey the laws of Relativism, the 
authorities stamp out, often through violent means, any transgression they regard 
as even potentially dangerous. The result is a kind of monochrome mirror- image 
of multiculturalism, a forced, artificially neutral homogeneity. Thus, like Solar 
Lottery, the novel dramatizes a flawed strategy which, in attempting to eradicate 
one mechanizing threat (warfare), replaces it with another (state oppression). 
In a further parallel, a quasi-religious movement develops in opposition to the 
political situation, centred on the eponymous Jones. 

Following exposure to the radiation brought about by nuclear war, Jones was 
born a mutant. He has the unique trait of experiencing his life a year in advance: 
the present experienced by others is for him a fading memory. Near the start of 
the novel, he is arrested for making predictions, an act that is seen as a contra- 
vention of the doctrine of Relativism. Yet when all of Jones’ predictions turn 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


out to be accurate, and the police are forced to accept that he is making state- 
ments of truth rather than opinion, they have no option but to release him (an 
event which he has naturally already foreseen). Jones’ fame spreads and he soon 
acquires a large cult-like and increasingly militaristic following which is able to 
avoid defeat by the security forces thanks to the strategic advantages provided 
by their leader’s foresight. 

Jones’ eventual goal, like that of John Preston, is for humanity to spread 
outwards towards the stars. His project does not share the moral ambiguity 
of the Prestonites’ endeavour, however, as it is explicitly couched in a closed 
morality, beginning with a campaign to destroy a (presumed) enemy rather 
than an attempt to reach out towards other worlds. Jones predicts the arrival on 
Earth of an alien species popularly referred to as ‘drifters’, and uses his followers 
to form violent mobs to repel the supposed invasion - with the long-term aim 
of pursuing them to their home-world and initiating a new era of aggressive 
human expansion. However, Jones realizes too late (though still a year before 
everyone else) that the drifters are benign, and that his great Crusade will not 
get beyond a few local star systems: having perceived the human race as an 
irritating virus, the fully developed adults whose embryos are the drifters will 
seal off humanity indefinitely within their local area of space. The journey to 
the stars with which Jones has ignited the popular imagination will be halted 
virtually the moment it begins. 

Thus the flaws in the social system of Relativism are mirrored in Jones’ alter- 
native strategy. He too, in trusting his knowledge of future events as certain and 
concrete, has failed to recognize the extent to which fictionalizing continues to 
infuse this very knowledge: what he actually foresees are his own experiences 
one year ahead (rather than some objective account of future history), and his 
fallacy is in believing that these experiences correspond directly to reality. If 
the state fails to appreciate that its attempt to escape mechanization is itself 
mechanizing, that its abolition of fabulation is based on a fabulation, Jones fails 
to recognize how easily the saviour may turn into its opposite: yet a senior agent, 
Kaminski, compares him within a few pages to both the Messiah - ‘Him Who 
John foretold’ (84) - and the devil - ‘That’s the worst thing about our world ... 
it’s permitted the beast to come’ (81). The way Jones’ messiah complex leads 
him towards the position of anti-messiah, the delusional would-be destroyer of 
a whole race, has clear parallels with Hitler’s ‘crusade’ against Jews, which Dick 
would later confirm were intentional (Lord RC 2006: 66). Both history and 
science fiction testify here to the potential scale of destruction that may result 
from closed morality - the analogy between the two highlighting that genocidal 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

destruction is not the result of some unprecedented evil force, but an immanent 
potential virtually intrinsic to social formation. 

For all his foresight, Jones is unable to alter the future: everything he does, 
he has seen himself doing in advance. His visionary knowledge is more a 
wearying burden than a gift; in the final year of his life he must experience not 
only his own future death, but the subsequent post-mortem deterioration of 
his corporeal and spiritual being, its devolution to mineral form (163-4). Thus 
Jones is just as much a victim of his own self-fulfilling prophecies as others. His 
promotion of the attacks on the drifters is motivated by his anticipation of the 
fear and panic they will inspire - ignoring the fact that he will be fuelling this 
fear by what he thinks is simply a reaction to it. Again we see Dick putting into a 
dramatic setting his own mistrust of causality. But we may also read this cyclical 
destabilization of linear cause-effect relations as analogous to the typical moral 
reaction of the closed society to encountering outsiders: in treating them in 
advance as an enemy, they construct them as such, and their expectations 
appear to be confirmed. 

By the end of the novel, Jones is aware of his mistake, recognizing the conti- 
nuity between the determining influence of his foresight on the world and the 
mechanizing tendencies that had already come close to causing humanity to 
destroy itself through nuclear war. His struggle with determinism culminates 
in the realization that any future-oriented strategy intended to move humanity 
towards an open society must necessarily involve a degree of uncertainty with 
regard to the future in order to have a chance of succeeding. His final action 
is thus to take himself, as the determining force, out of the situation. He 
deliberately gets himself shot and killed, leaving behind a recorded prophecy 
that points to the future success of the movement that will be based on his 
martyrdom: ‘The new religion. The crucified god, slain for the glory of man. 
Certain to reappear, someday; a death not in vain. Temples, myths, sacred texts. 
Relativism wasn’t coming back in, not in this world. Not after this’ (188). 

Thus Jones continues his fabulation - reopening it where it had turned 
towards closure - making possible the continuation of his cult by removing 
himself as the factor most responsible for rendering it deterministic. The 
journey of interstellar conquest will not succeed, but the oppressive police state 
will be overthrown. Whether this will ultimately be better or worse for the 
species remains an open question - but such uncertainty is at least preferable to 
the determinate future which was steadily closing humanity in on itself Jones 
is sure that his followers would eventually have turned against him had he not 
died, this being the first piece of foresight he draws on that does not come from 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


his precognitive talent - that is, the first which comes from speculation about 
imagined future possibilities beyond his direct knowledge. His decision to get 
himself killed is the only action arising from such speculation. Until this point, 
Jones has acted as if according to the natural laws governing raw matter, as if 
he himself were governed by determinism: in his first and only gesture of free 
will, there is at least the chance, albeit minimal, of opening up the potential 
for something like salvation. At the same time, the novel has emphasized the 
affiliation between religious and anti-religious attempts to safeguard the future, 
as well as further illustrating the ease with which fabulation that is intended to 
promote openness can revert to closure. 

Vulcan’s Hammer (1976c [I960]) 

Solar Lottery and The World Jones Made depict strategies of countering the 
war-instinct in which the aim is to neutralize certain human traits that are 
identified as its source, such as self-interest, conflict over cultural differences, 
and group competition. In Vulcan’s Hammer those in power have gone one 
step further and eliminated the human element altogether from the decision- 
making processes of world governance, placing a supercomputer called Vulcan 3 
in control. 

Managing Director Jason Dill (the highest human figure of authority in the 
new system) explains to a class of schoolchildren that ‘something drastic had 
to be done, because another war would destroy mankind. Something, some 
ultimate principle of organization, was needed. International control’ (19). This 
fear of mutual self-destruction and a sense of the need for some preventative 
mechanism could be seen as inflecting the politics not only of the Cold War 
period, but of occidental politics generally since the First World War (at least 
until the beginning of the twenty-first century, when terrorism, or perhaps 
the unpredictable catastrophe more generally, might be said to have taken 
over from international warfare as the greatest perceived threat to a Western 
nations security). Dill’s sentiments echo precisely those of Bergson at the end 
of Two Sources when he expresses concern that one antagonist will soon have 
the capacity to remove the other from the face of the planet. The international 
mechanism which Bergson hoped might have a chance at averting such an event 
was the League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations. In the scenario of 
Vulcan’s Hammer such organizations are already viewed as failures, and the only 
viable path is perceived to lie in making literally (automatically, mechanically) 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

binding the commitments which in a human organization depend on the 
sustained or continually renewed goodwill and consent of its members. Thus, 
following the nuclear war, the ‘combined nations of the world’ have agreed to 
‘subordinate themselves in a realistic manner - not in the idealistic fashion 
of the UN days - to a common supranational authority, for the good of all 
mankind’ (19). 

The logic here is that humans will never be able to value the survival of 
humanity as a whole above the survival - or even above the well-being - of the 
particular group within humanity to which they belong. If a human-controlled 
organization will always revert or succumb to closed society thinking, the 
reasoning goes, humanity’s survival can only be assured by removing humans 
altogether from the highest positions of power. In fact, this ultimately does 
little more than replay an already archetypal human displacement of power or 
governance on to divine or other supernatural entities. 

As with the justifications for the lottery system and Relativism, the flaws in 
this logic become apparent by the end of Vulcan’s Hammer: instead of working 
to counter closed morality per se, the strategy used here simply replaces one 
form of closed thinking and self-interest with another. Vulcan 3 swiftly develops 
an interest in its own survival, and is prepared to destroy human life on a 
massive scale to protect itself Even prior to this, the removal of humans from 
the decision-making processes has rendered the human organization called 
Unity, which is responsible for carrying out Vulcan 3’s policies, nothing more 
than a massive bureaucracy that already represents the mechanization of human 
society: ‘The Unity Building rang and vibrated with the sounds of endless 
calculators, statistics machines, vidphones, teletypes, and the innumerable 
electric typewriters of the minor clerks’ (8). It is also made clear that human 
competitiveness and antagonism continue to flourish under these mechanized 
conditions: virtually every character working for Unity displays both a ruthless 
desire to climb higher in the organization, and a deep suspicion of colleagues 
harbouring similar ambitions. One of the second-tier directors, William Barris, 
notes that ‘[i]t’s this sort of reasoning that’s made us into the thing we are. The 
paranoid suspicions of one another. [...] Some unity, with each of us eying the 
other, watching for any mistake, any sign (11). 

Once again, a cult movement opposes the government and the new socio- 
political order. This time the organization, whose members call themselves the 
Healers, operates out of a pseudo-Luddite hatred of the mechanisms that have 
taken power away from humans. They cultivate a religious appearance, wearing 
monks’ robes and referring to their key figures by the title of ‘Father’. Their aim 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


is to restore humanity’s control over its own destiny by destroying both Vulcan 
3 and Unity, seeing the latter as merely a machinic extension of the former, with 
humans as its moving parts. The leader of the Healers, Father Fields, eventually 
succeeds in convincing Barris that Vulcan 3 is a dire threat to humanity (rather 
than its guardian), and their combined efforts, after a desperate struggle, 
succeed in destroying the supercomputer. Yet even more so than in Solar Lottery 
or Jones, the triumph of the protagonists over an immediate mechanizing threat 
does not result in a particularly uplifting conclusion. This is primarily because 
the human resistance represented by the Healers turns out to be as mechanistic 
in origin as the supercomputer they have defeated: Vulcan 2, the predecessor 
to Vulcan 3, dreamed up the idea of the Healers, having anticipated that its 
replacement would develop self-awareness and turn against humanity. As 
Father Fields ultimately realizes, his organization was just as much a mechanical 
appendage as Unity: ‘We humans [...] we were pawns of those two things. They 
played us off against one another, like inanimate pieces. The things became alive 
and the living organisms were reduced to things’ (153). 

Vulcan’s Hammer could be considered quite a cliched genre narrative, with 
a plot which pits humans against evil supercomputers and characters who lack 
any real depth engaging in desperate physical struggles to save the world. Yet at 
least in the way its ending undercuts the humans’ victory over the computers, 
it manages to avoid any essentialist reaffirmation of the human/machine 
distinction. Indeed, in portraying the Unity organization as a great, inefficient 
machine, and its human characters as mechanizing in their instrumental 
treatment of one another, it can be said to undermine such a distinction, in a 
way that anticipates the posthumanist ethics of later works such as Do Androids 
Dream of Electric Sheep? (1993a [1968]) and We Can Build You (1977b [1972]). 
In fact, it would not be ridiculous to suggest that there may be connections that 
are more than superficial between the thematics of mechanization within the 
novel’s plot and the mechanical use of certain genre tropes in their deployment 
- such that the human characters’ lack of depth, the subsumption of any flickers 
of personality within the mechanical way in which they go through the motions 
of a conventional science fiction adventure, could be seen as contributing to the 
effect of inverting and destabilizing the human/machine distinction. 

Father Fields’ realization that he and his followers were pawns of the 
computers is representative of a broader point implicit in the narrative as a 
whole, as in the other two novels thus far in this chapter - that mechanization 
is not defeated by the formation of closed societies to oppose it; such groups 
will always risk becoming an extension or alternative form of mechanization. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

even if (or because) they destroy the particular mechanisms they are targeting. 
This mistake is repeatedly dramatized in Dick’s early novels, both by political 
strategists and religious or mystical saviour-figures. The Quiz/lottery system, 
Relativism and Vulcan 3 are outright failures, reinforcing rather than countering 
the threat of mechanization. Meanwhile the strategies associated with forms of 
mysticism - Preston’s utopianism, Jones’ Crusade and the Healers’ movement 
are at least partially successful within the diegetic worlds in which they appear, 
in that they overcome an immediate, critical threat, and at least offer the possi- 
bility of future survival. This points to the importance for Dick, as for Bergson, 
of mysticism as a necessary element in the human struggle to overcome mecha- 
nization. But the successes in these scenarios do not ring as true as the struggles 
themselves: an adequate saviour-figure or concept of salvation still appears to be 
a long way off for Dick. 

Time Out of Joint (2003c [1959]) 

Thus far we have encountered mechanization in Dick’s early novels in a range of 
forms: industrialization, war (in terms of both the human motivations behind 
it and the technological means by which it is waged on an increasingly global 
scale), determinism, entropy, cybernetic machines in the form of bureaucracy 
and supercomputers. Nevertheless, there is much similarity between the settings 
of the three novels discussed above, which deploy relatively conventional 
science fiction scenarios, even if there is some implicit critique or incipient 
subversion of genre conventions. In Time Out of Joint the setting is (for the 
first two -thirds of the narrative, at any rate) very different, having more in 
common with the mainstream novels that Dick had been writing alongside his 
science fiction in the 1950s, but which had failed to find sufficient favour with 
publishers.' Nevertheless, mechanization can again be regarded as central to 
Joint, in a different, though no less important form to those we have considered 
so far. Here it is the ‘world’ itself - or more specifically the habitational and 
perceptual environment of the protagonist - that has been mechanized, in the 
sense that it has been replaced by an artificial construction. Though intricate, 
the fake world, as is usually the case in a Dickian narrative, ultimately has 
certain characteristics that will allow its artificiality to be discerned. Indeed, 
this motif, already apparent elsewhere in other early novels such as The Cosmic 
Puppets (2006 [1957]) and Eye in the Sky (2003a [1957]) would be central to 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


many of Dick’s later novels, and has come to be regarded as one of the most 
recognizable, defining traits of his fiction. 

When Ragle Gumm sees a soft-drink stand dissolve before his eyes, to be 
replaced by a slip of paper on which is printed ‘SOFT-DRINK STAND’, he 
believes he is going mad. In fact, as another character. Major Bill Black later 
observes, he is just starting to become sane - while those around him continue 
to accept a reality that is illusory. As in Hamlet, the source of the novel’s title, 
the insane behaviour of those surrounding the protagonist (in this case a society 
striving to destroy itself), has driven him into a form of madness of his own - 
though a madness which only appears so due to the irrationality of everyone 
else. The illusion is fabulative in that it is the product of a fictionalizing activity 
undertaken for the purposes of preserving (saving) lives: like Hamlet’s, it is a 
madness with a method. 

Ragle Gumm’s world at the beginning of the novel is a replica of a certain 
idyllic image of suburban 1950s Galifornia. He makes a daily living by entering 
a newspaper competition called ‘Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next?’ - 
which he has a particular talent for winning. Based on data provided and a large 
amount of intuition, the contestant has to pinpoint a specific set of spatial and 
temporal coordinates within a grid of thousands of possibilities. However, as he 
will discover in the final part of the novel, this seemingly trivial competition is 
actually a complex military exercise. Beyond the boundaries of his small town 
is a very different world, in which Earth is engaged in a civil war that appears 
to have its roots in the different factions’ opposed attitudes to space exploration 
and expansion. The dominant ideology of the mainstream is that humans 
should not leave the planet, encapsulated in their slogan ‘One Happy World’ 
(182). The militant, pro-exploration dissidents have taken refuge on the moon, 
earning them the label ‘Lunatics’, and from there they maintain a limited but 
steady series of missile attacks against Earth. 

Ragle Gumm formerly had the role of predicting these strikes for the military, 
a task for which he possessed a unique aptitude: yet the responsibility eventually 
became too much and drove him into a state of psychosis. Turning the task of 
making the predictions into a puzzle was his own psychological mechanism for 
shielding himself from the stress. Along with this, he retreated into a fantasy of 
the safer, idyllic suburbia of his childhood. As Major Bill Black explains, once 
the military understood what was happening to Ragle’s mind, they realized that 
they could make use of the fantasy to keep him performing his life-saving work: 
‘So we found a system by which we could let him live in his stress-free world. 
Relatively stress-free, I mean. And still plot our missile intercepts for us. He 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

could do it without the sense of load on his shoulders. The lives of all mankind’ 
(200). Hence a physical version of Ragle’s fantasy world was constructed and 
populated with complementary inhabitants - many of them having their own 
memories altered to fit in with his psychosis. 

This is a somewhat different fabulative strategy to those we have encountered 
thus far, in that it arises, initially at least, by unconscious mechanism rather than 
socio-political design. Nevertheless, it shares the function of preserving lives 
from destruction through war, by virtue of an intuitive activity (guessing the 
bomb strike targets) which simultaneously generates or sustains illusions that 
will render them acceptable to the intellect. It also turns out to be fundamentally 
flawed, in that ultimately, as in the novels discussed above, it merely replaces 
one form of mechanization with another, such that further counter-strategies 
are needed. 

The construction of the artificial town has a mechanizing effect not only on 
Ragle’s own life, but with regard to wider society: by the time he has escaped 
to the outside world and recovered his repressed memories, he will realize that 
ultimately it is only his participation that is keeping the war against the Lunatics 
going. As we have seen, the fabulation which saves one group may be the engine 
of mechanization at an inter-social level. Ragle recalls that, prior to his descent 
into a fantasy world, he was on the verge of changing sides. He had come to 
appreciate the simplicity of the Lunatics’ urge, and its essential harmlessness: 
Tt had nothing to do with minerals, resources, scientific measurement ... 
exploration and profit. Those were excuses. The actual reason lay outside 
their conscious minds’ (204). Thus at the novel’s close he finally actualizes his 
decision to join the Lunatics, knowing that, rather than exposing the Earth to 
devastating attacks, he will be ending the war (210). 

The artificial world which Ragle Gumm has collaborated with his society in 
building for himself reflects other ways in which we inhabit (and help maintain) 
artificial worlds. The construction of his nostalgic image of 1950s suburbia is a 
microcosm of what the ‘One Happy World’ government wants all its people to 
believe in - a world which regards itself as totally self-sufficient, and seeks to 
maintain its isolation from the rest of the universe (a perfect closed society). 
This resonates with the self-conceptions and governmental strategies of many 
‘real-world’ societies, from isolationist policies on trade and integration, to 
the policing of international migration. Ragle Gumm’s attempts to evade the 
authorities and escape the bounds of his artificial town could be considered 
in the context of numerous attempted border crossings in other political 
realities, highlighting the way every struggle to move beyond a physical. 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


geographical boundary may simultaneously constitute an attempt to enter a 
literally, metaphysically and politically alternative world. 

The fake town of Joint can also be taken to reflect the ways in which we 
inhabit false realities in psychological and epistemological senses. A central 
concern in Bergsons early work had been to account for the reasons and means 
by which the intellects habitual way of perceiving and interacting with the 
world renders into separate objects material that at a more fundamental level 
can be considered continuous. Experiencing time and matter as composed 
of divisible units - days, hours, seconds, objects, entities, atoms - serves our 
practical needs, whether we are planning everyday activities, looking for 
food, constructing tools, or undertaking a scientific study. Seemingly separate 
memories come and go within our conscious experience - generally in ways that 
are filtered or organized by the most pressing concerns of the thinking, bodily 
entity - leading us to understand memory as made up of smaller units that are 
stored somewhere in our physiological structure, from Plato’s wax tablet to the 
modern image of the brain as a processor of information.^ However pragmatic, 
indeed necessary, it may be to make these separations in our perception of time 
and matter, for Bergson we are in error when we treat these (useful) artificial 
constructions as corresponding to the fundamental nature of temporality, 
memory, or objective reality: 

That which is commonly called a fact is not reality as it appears to immediate 
intuition, but an adaptation of the real to the interests of practice and to the 
exigencies of social life. Pure intuition [...] is that of an undivided continuity. 

We break this continuity into elements laid side by side [...] But [...] we feel 
ourselves obliged to establish between the severed terms a bond which can only 
then be external and superadded. For the living unity, which was born from 
internal continuity, we substitute the factitious unity of an empty diagram as 
lifeless as the parts which it holds together. (1988 [1896]): 183) 

The adjective ‘factitious’, a translation of the French /actice, meaning artificial, 
forced or simulated, underscores the connection Bergson makes here between 
the notion of a constructed version of reality, and ‘facts’: reality understood as 
a collection of facts - ideas or statements habitually taken as given - is already 
an artificial reality, a factitious unity. The conventional association of fact with 
truth, in opposition to fiction, is reversed; this provides us with a philosophical 
basis for understanding an effect repeatedly produced by Dick’s narratives. 
Although Bergson would not develop the notion of fabulation until long after 
he wrote Matter and Memory, the notion of a factitious unity may usefully be 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

applied to the understanding of closed morality as the product of past fabula- 
tions. Where intuition uses fabulation to save the intellect from itself, the 
urgency of such instantaneous, dynamic processes is subsequently transmuted 
into the mundane, though equally survival-oriented practicality of the intellect: 
the latter adapts the saving fabulation into a coherent worldview, a factitious 
unity, including a closed morality, which serves ‘the interests of practice and 
the exigencies of social life’. In other words, closed morality is the ethical 
dimension of the fabulated worldview of a closed society or culture, with which 
its members’ individual moral outlooks are pressured towards conformity in 
just the same way as perceptions of physical reality are constantly adapting to 
social norms. 

The world Ragle Gumm attempts to escape can thus be considered a facti- 
tious unity, a world made of facts that are both as artificial and as substantial 
as the fake objects and buildings which also structure it (and, conversely, those 
artificial objects are just as insubstantial as facts - which is one way of under- 
standing the significance of the way the ice cream van and other objects in 
the novel are suddenly transformed into words on scraps of paper). The task 
which occupies Ragle for the main part of the novel consists in an effort to 
engage what Bergson might call his intuitive knowledge of the past, which has 
been obscured from his intellectual understanding. First he perceives the small 
incongruities in the factitious unities that constitute his physical surroundings 
and his false psychological construction of the past. Then he focuses his 
attention on the objects and events which bring these inconsistencies to the 
fore - such as pages from a telephone book containing numbers that should 
not exist, a picture of Marilyn Monroe portraying her as an international star 
(whereas she is unknown in Ragle’s 1950s world), and a small-scale model of an 
underground Civil Defence factory, the full-sized version of which is supposed 
to be in its planning stages, but which he remembers having walked around 
inside (150). Reflecting on such objects brings back more and more related 
aspects of the forgotten past. Finally, having found a way through the illusion to 
what lies beyond, confirming its factitious nature in the process, he is presented 
with a copy of Time magazine with his picture on the cover and his biography 
inside, and uses the facts presented in the magazine as focal points for recon- 
necting with the rest of his suppressed memory: ‘In his hands the pages of the 
magazine opened, spread out, presented him with the world of reality. Names, 
faces, experiences drifted up at him and resumed their existences’ (192). This 
whole process can be read as a fabulative activity in which, in order to escape 
one false, mechanically engineered world, he must construct another out of bits 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


and pieces he finds scattered around (the telephone book and the magazine 
are unearthed in a rubbish dump), which, while initially seeming far-fetched, 
eventually amounts to something which rings far truer than the substantial 
world that appears to his immediate perception. As we will see, much later 
when writing his Exegesis, Dick himself would undertake an equivalent activity 
in order to construct his own saviour as an ecological arrangement of textual, 
ideational and physical materials. 

Conclusion: Super- ever yman to solar shoe salesman 

Dick’s early novels are often viewed by critics as inferior to his mature work. 
Among the characteristically Dickian elements they are taken to lack is the 
figure of the flawed central protagonist. As Rickman writes, ‘the protagonists of 
Eye in the Sky, The Cosmic Puppets, Time Out of Joint and Dr. Euturity all are at 
first baffled by the insane worlds they find themselves in, but once they figure 
out what’s wrong they move forcefully to correct it’ (1988b: 19). In this sense, 
Dick’s early protagonists are not very far from the archetypal no-nonsense 
hero of pulp science fiction and space opera. Popular early twentieth- century 
examples such as John Carter of Mars, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon had given 
rise to a plethora of protagonists in the same mould, dominating the comic 
strips and pulp science fiction magazines Dick read and collected as a teenager 
in the 1940s. 

In most of Dick’s later novels, however, and certainly his most celebrated, 
the pragmatic, confident qualities of the conventional science fiction hero 
are undermined or eschewed in favour of ‘unheroic’ characteristics such as 
pessimism, depression and paranoia. The most recognizable Dickian protag- 
onist is a ‘little man, a small businessman or employee with a certain set of 
practical skills, in which he may possess some talent, though which is never- 
theless not widely recognized, partly due to the low social standing of the area 
in which he works, and partly due to his own lack of self-confidence. He is 
also often afflicted by an inability to sustain functional marital relationships or 
to handle his finances, and may be prone to depressive and possibly suicidal 
tendencies. Yet with all this, he also possesses some spark, some irreducible 
capacity for hope or resistance, which ultimately keeps open, however slightly, 
the possibility of redemption, for himself and others. The following assessment 
of Joe Chip, the protagonist of Ubik (2000c [1969]), by his boss Glen Runciter, 
epitomizes this combination of elements: 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

He had a peculiar defeated quality hanging over him, and yet, underneath, he 
did not seem to have given up. A vague and ragged hint of vitality lurked behind 
the resignation; it seemed to Runciter that Joe most nearly could be accused of 
feigning spiritual downfall ... the real article, however, was not there. (47-8) 

Other typical examples would be Chuck Rittersdorf in Clans of the Alphane 
Moon (1975 [1964]) and Joe Fernwright in Galactic Pot-Healer (2005a [1969]) 
(which I discuss in some detail in Chapter 5). John Sladek’s excellent parody, 
‘Solar Shoe-Salesman’ (1973), demonstrates just how recognizably Dickian this 
figure had become by the early 1970s. 

Joanna Russ has suggested that the typical pulp science fiction protagonist, 
‘if not Everyman, is a glamorized version of Super-everyman (1975). This genre 
staple offers, in a sense, a ready-made ‘immanent saviour’: exceptional in many 
ways, he is usually a biologically normal human being, who through a combi- 
nation of unusual circumstances and his own special talents ends up saving 
others, usually on a massive scale. In transmuting this figure into the down- 
trodden, near-hopeless ‘solar shoe-salesman’, Dick manages to make the hero’s 
saving achievements seem simultaneously more impressive and less removed 
from the capabilities of the ordinary reader. In other words, Dick immanentizes 
the fantastic pulp science fiction hero, bringing him down to our level (or 
pushing him down beneath it). 

In some of the later novels, this immanentizing becomes central to the way 
the plot develops within the narrative. Jason Taverner in Flow My Tears, the 
Policeman Said (2001 [1974]) is a genetically superior, intelligent, handsome 
and talented celebrity who suddenly finds his identity erased, forcing him 
to struggle to survive as an undocumented criminal within a punitive police 
state. Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1993a [1968]), as 
discussed in Chapter 5, begins as a seemingly typical, no-nonsense, upbeat hero, 
but is gradually worn down to a state of absolute exhaustion and self-doubt by 
the end of the novel. In such cases, it is as though Dick has plucked a hero out 
of a different, more conventional science fiction narrative, in which they confi- 
dently exercise mastery over their environment however volatile it becomes, 
and has thrown them into an unfamiliar universe in which their classically 
heroic traits are of much less use: these scenarios in a sense thus metafictively 
reproduce, in a metaphysically and ontologically distorted mirrored version, the 
physical transportation to another world that, in a pulp narrative tends to mark 
the beginning of the hero’s thrilling adventures (e.g. Buck Rogers going into 
suspended animation. Flash Gordon’s abduction, John Carter being transported 

Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 


to Mars). Yet if the ‘solar shoe-salesman’ is not yet a standard in Dick’s 1950s 
novels, there are plenty of signs that he is moving in that direction. Most of the 
protagonists in the four novels discussed in this chapter, as well as other early 
novels, demonstrate signs of unhappiness or depression at some point or other. 
Despite inhabiting an idyllic world constructed from his happy childhood 
memories, Ragle Gumm initially views himself as something of a loser, a single, 
middle-aged man who lives with his sister’s family and is unable to do a real 
job. Floyd Jones, as we have seen, is a depressive figure throughout most of his 
narrative, which culminates in a kind of vicarious suicide. Moreover, each is 
barely able to cope with the saviour status that has been conferred upon him. If 
there is subversion at work in Dick’s early novels, four examples of which have 
been discussed here, it is one that appears to be in the process of evolution. That 
is, Dick is primarily attempting to write publishable, rather than subversive 
science fiction, to earn a living and establish himself as a writer; yet during 
this process he displays a growing dissatisfaction with many conventions of the 
genre, which he begins to rework in various ways. What we may also see in these 
early novels are early signs that one of the resources science fiction offers Dick 
as a genre is an engagement with questions of salvation - even if the religious 
context of such questions is often submerged within plots of alien contact, 
futuristic technologies, space travel and so on. Nevertheless, we may already 
observe Dick in these early novels trying out various kinds of saviour-figure, 
testing their viability in a variety of different critical scenarios involving a range 
of forms of mechanization, and repeatedly discovering that fabulation plays key 
roles in his characters’ attempts to save themselves and others. As we will see, 
versions of this immanentizing process can be observed in Dick’s treatment of 
various types of saviour-figure, whether this means dressing a deity in a Paisley 
shawl, afflicting it with amnesia, or causing it to manifest in the commodified 
form of a spray-can of deodorant. 


The Empire that Never Ended 

When the victor grants the conquered populations a semblance of 
independence, the grouping lasts longer: witness the Roman Empire. 

(Bergson, MR: 276) 

Destruction of Rome ends, and Rome perpetuates itself into an infinitude of 
fake time. It is as if a spurious ontological matrix or receptacle for Rome is 
obligingly spun out, and Rome unrolls forever into it in a plethora of disguises. 

(Dick, E: 414) 

A recurrent aspect of Dick’s 2-3-74 visions was the experience that the 
Roman Empire had somehow persisted, and that it continued to constitute 
the background of his contemporary reality. In at least one vision, he recalled 
witnessing 1970s California fading out and first-century Rome fading in to 
replace it. This vision gave rise to a variety of attempts to explain its significance, 
which became intertwined with the general speculating and theorizing about 
2-3-74 which constitute the Exegesis. Other fabulations fed into these explan- 
ations - such as a dream in which he was searching in an old science fiction 
store for a serial novel called The Empire Never Ended, a phrase which became 
a favourite refrain in Dick’s late years, appearing prominently in VALIS (1991d 
[1981]: 48; E: 421). A further dimension of Dick’s understanding of the Roman 
Empire as contemporaneous with his world came through his experiences of 
hearing the thoughts of someone he understood to be living in that period. 
These ruminations ranged across a variety of theological and philosophical 
topics, and often seemed to take the form of phrases in classical languages. One 
of Dick’s theories regarding this figure, who he often referred to as Thomas or 
Eirebright, was that he was a secret early Christian engaged in a militant and 
spiritual struggle against the Empire, though he also came up with many others, 
such as the notion that he was actually being tricked by the medieval scholar 
Erasmus, who was citing his classical predecessors (E: 107-8), or that it was his 
deceased friend Bishop Jim Pike (E: 22-3). 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

These experiences have often been dismissed, along with Dick’s writing 
relating to his visions in general, as aspects of insanity. Even an admirer such 
as Steve Erikson writes, in a footnote in the Exegesis, ‘Dick was in many ways 
a genius and visionary, but this Rome business is just stone screwy’ (E: 382). 
Yet the idea that ancient imperial Rome and modernity in some sense coincide 
has recently been explored seriously by a number of theologians and philoso- 
phers in the context of a ‘rediscovery’ of the contemporary political value 
of the writings of Saint Paul. Admittedly, for thinkers such as Taubes (2004 
[1993]), Badiou (2003 [1997]), Agamben (2005 [2000]), Milbank (2008) and 
Zizek (2010) the coincidence is social and political, based partly on historical 
continuity (the Roman Empire and the birth of Christianity as conditioning 
subsequent Western history) and partly on analogy (the conditions of empire in 
the time of Saint Paul mirroring those of modern global capitalism). Yet Dick’s 
attempts to understand his Rome experiences address many of the questions 
that arise in the context of these recent exercises in the philosophy of religion 
and political theology, furthermore, the fact that Dick begins with a fabulation 
- a direct vision - rather than with an analogy or by following a line of socio- 
historical argument, may well be informative in terms of certain aspects that 
these approaches have in common, namely, in their attribution of a particular 
power and role to ftction and ftctionalizing in their conceptions of the Roman 
Empire and Paul’s struggles against it. 

Of particular interest in the contemporary philosophical engagement with 
Paul’s writing is the frequency with which modern readers touch upon the value 
(for immanent reality, political and otherwise) of the transcendent elements of 
certain supposedly ethical and religious fabulating activities. Yet although this 
dimension of Paul is present in various recent philosophical engagements, it is 
seldom emphasized. According to the perspective I will pursue here, Paul may 
be understood as one of the first immanent soteriologists (or, at least, one of the 
most influential), with figures such as Bergson and Dick among his spiritual 
heirs (some of the first being found among the early Christian Gnostics), not 
only due to the similarity of certain aspects of their respective undertakings, but 
in their use of a mode of dynamic fabulation of which Paul can be considered 
an early theorist and practitioner. 

Saint Paul is one of the figures Bergson cites as an example of the ‘true 
mystic’; he is also either the source, or the most frequent and easily recog- 
nizable theologico-philosophical referent, for Dick’s ethics of caritas, even prior 
to Dick’s own Dasmascene conversion experience in 1974 (McKee 2004: 33-7; 

The Empire that Never Ended 


Rickman 1988b: 9-42). A consideration of Paul’s own immanent soteriology, as 
partially rediscovered by Agamben, Badiou and others, will in this chapter allow 
us to develop a more technical and elaborate sense of how a dynamic mode of 
fabulation may work to undermine or open up the static fabulations it opposes, 
and to gain a more concrete understanding of its central role in an immanent 
soteriology. This will inform the examinations of specific works by Dick, and his 
fabulation of Valis, in the subsequent chapters of this book. 

In examining Badiou’s approach to Paul in the first part of this chapter, 
I will highlight what we might think of as the generalization of the Roman 
Empire which occurs in his reading, through which he establishes grounds 
for Paul’s contemporary political relevance that are compatible with an atheist, 
immanence-based worldview. What Dick described in the citation above as 
Rome’s interminable unfolding into ‘a plethora of disguises’ is found here in 
the form of a continuity which Badiou identifies between law, desire, death 
and empire. We will see how closely this account of a general imperialism 
parallels Bergson’s account of mechanization in Two Sources. Both are effectively 
captured in Dick’s image of the ‘Black Iron Prison’ - the phrase he used to refer 
to the oppressive form taken by imperial Rome when it emerged from beneath 
his Californian environment during the March 1974 visions, and which encap- 
sulates what he perceived as its political and metaphysical power to confine and 
determine the living (i.e. to mechanize). We will also see how the universalism 
whose roots Badiou traces to Paul’s opposition to the conditions of empire 
(and with this the birth of Christianity), mirrors Bergson’s thinking of the open 

In the second part of the chapter, we will turn to Agamben’s account of 
Paul, and in particular the ‘messianic tension’ which he identifies in various 
forms as a technical feature of Paul’s writing, and which can be understood as 
a means by which a particular power of fictionalizing can be used to ‘open up’ 
the closed fictions of empire and static religion. In dealing with both Agamben 
and Badiou, as with Paul himself, my overall concern is to bring out a crucial 
but apparently downplayed role of fictionalizing in these and related accounts of 
the struggle against empire, which may inform and expand our understanding 
of the role of (dynamic) fabulation in challenging the closed society - and in so 
doing, offer something approaching a coherent ethico-philosophical basis for 
understanding the role of Dick’s visions in his struggle against the Black Iron 
Prison, the empire that never ended. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

A matter of life or (life under the sign of) death 

Both Badiou and Agamben note Nietzsche’s apparent hatred for the figure 
widely considered the institutional founder of the Christian Church, each 
suggesting that Nietzsche’s savage attacks on Paul mask an underlying affinity. 
For Badiou, the denunciations are so extreme precisely because, far from 
being in direct opposition, the two are rival ‘antiphilosophers’ (SP: 71); while 
Agamben explains the apparent disjunction by interpreting The Antichrist as 
‘a messianic parody in which Nietzsche, in cloaking himself in the garments 
of the Antimessiah, is actually only reciting a script written by Paul’ (TR: 111). 
If ‘neutrality is impossible’ when discussing Saint Paul (Wright, 2005: 15), it 
seems that (for modern philosophers at least) the crucial determining factor 
is not to be found among the ambiguities of language and doctrine, but in the 
way one understands - or decides to treat - the centrality Paul gives to the 
Resurrection. Nietzsche is enraged by the audacity with which some theologians 
interpret Paul’s statements (1968: 169), yet unrestrainedly interprets the Cross 
as a sign of death, and Resurrection as the central lie responsible for rendering 
Christianity ‘the one great curse’ (1968: 186). In contrast, Agamben and Badiou 
view the Resurrection as the institution of an affirmative principle of life, and 
on this basis see Paul as representing, perhaps more than Jesus, the radical 
political potential within Christianity which the Church has done much to 
suppress during its subsequent history. Yet surprisingly, perhaps, and crucially 
for the relationship between fabulation and salvation, these drastically varying 
opinions concerning Paul agree on a fundamental point - that the Resurrection 
must be understood as a fictional event. 

Deleuze, for his part, seems to have followed the Nietzschean view of the 
Resurrection as fixated on death rather than life, with the corresponding image 
of ‘the black Saint Paul, who keeps Christ on the cross, ceaselessly leading him 
back to if (Deleuze 1998: 37). In 1997, the same year that he published his 
book on Saint Paul, Badiou wrote that Deleuze’s ‘philosophy of life is essentially 
[...] a philosophy of death’ (2000: 13). What Badiou found most distasteful in 
Deleuze’s vitalism was a supposedly transcendent dimension that, in Badiou’s 
eyes, was inherited from Bergson. In contrast, the ‘strange enterprise’ he himself 
undertook in approaching Paul was premised on the view that there is ‘no 
transcendence, nothing sacred’ in the latter’s thought (SP: 1). Yet the conver- 
gences and shared ground between Badiou’s Pauline universalism and Bergson’s 
philosophy of the open society, and the common roles of mechanization and 
fiction or fabulation in their respective approaches to the contemporary value 

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of religious thought, suggest that in each case we are faced with a soteriology 
of immanence. An examination of these convergences will provide us with a 
more detailed formal understanding of what dynamic fabulation does to invert 
or explode the static fictions of empire, closed morality, and other forms of 
particularist thinking, such that we may appreciate the ways Dick’s fabulations 
- both in his writing and his visions - can be considered in the same vein, if not 
tradition, as Paul’s fabulative soteriological techniques. 

The open and the universal 

Badiou begins Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (2003 [1997]) by 
making clear his antipathy towards religion, characterizing Paul as a militant 
and a ‘poet-thinker of the event’ (SP: 2). Despite his feeling that Bergson laid 
himself ‘much too open to [...] a recuperation of the injunctions of the Open 
by Christian spiritualism’ (Badiou 2000: 99) this text thus shares with Bergson’s 
Two Sources a basic assumption: that ideas conventionally associated with 
religion can be used to address the most pressing aspects of the contemporary 
social and political global situation, irrespective of whether one subscribes 
to any given set of religious beliefs. If Paul’s value is not to do with religion, 
nearly two millennia of hindsight suggests that few figures have left themselves 
more open to recuperation by Christian spiritualism than Paul himself; and 
if a non-spiritualist Paul can be recovered from his canonized status within 
organized religion, then it should be a comparatively simpler matter to conceive 
of a non-spiritualist Bergson. 

For both Bergson and Badiou, the existence or not of a transcendent God is 
largely irrelevant, and salvation is only a useful concept with regard to the actual 
physical and social conditions of our worldly existence. Bergson’s use of the 
term ‘mysticism’ and his focus on the figure of the true mystic have little to do 
with what Badiou denounces as the ‘obscurantist’ discourse of ‘the miraculous, 
or mystical’, which attempts to justify commitment to an event or truth on the 
basis of a ‘private resource of a miraculous communication with truth’ (SP: 
52). On the contrary, Bergson’s mystics, as we have seen, possess a ‘supreme 
good sense’ (MR: 228) and ‘prove to be great men of action, to the surprise of 
those for whom mysticism is nothing but visions, and raptures and ecstasies’ 
(MR: 99). Admittedly, Bergson’s mystic possesses these qualities by virtue of 
having re-established contact with the vital impetus or creative force of life, 
and it is in Bergson’s vitalism that Badiou perceives an untenable dimension 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

of transcendence. Yet even if the Badiou of Deleuze considers Bergson to have 
been ‘extricated’ from Christian spiritualism, ‘modernized’ and ‘secularized’ by 
Deleuze’s ‘astonishing undertaking’ (2000: 99), it can be argued that the Bergson 
of Two Sources and the Badiou of Saint Paul are not so far apart as one might 
expect (2000: 99). 

Badiou makes a crucial opposition between the ‘principle of life’ (on the 
side of truth, event) and a corresponding principle of death (on the side of 
law, sin). If one compares this opposition to Bergson’s couplings of open and 
closed tendencies, mysticism and mechanism, it becomes increasingly difficult 
to identify the significant divergences, either at the level of philosophical 
worldview or in terms of potential political effects. 

For Badiou, Paul’s contemporaneity - which effectively resides in the coinci- 
dence of his thought with Badiou’s own project - is his commitment to a 
genuine universality: ‘Paul’s unprecedented gesture consists in subtracting 
truth from the communitarian grasp, be it that of a people, a city, an empire, 
a territory, or a social class’ (SP: 5). These examples of the communitarian are 
all instances of Bergson’s closed society - whose ‘essential characteristic is [...] 
to include at any moment a certain number of individuals, and exclude others’ 
(MR: 30). Badiou’s Paul aims at the universal (as one of its ‘first theoreticians’) 
through ‘the termination of communitarian particularisms’ (SP: 108) - ‘[tjhere 
is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor 
female’ (Gal. 3.28; SP: 9) - just as Bergson’s ‘open society [...] which is deemed 
in principle to embrace all humanity’ (MR: 267) depends on the principled 
rejection of communitarian forms (closed societies) rather than their expansion 
to include more of humanity: ‘Never shall we pass from the closed society to the 
open society, from the city to humanity, by any mere broadening out’ (MR: 267). 

As we have seen, Bergson refers to the open society as unrealizable in 
practice (MR: 84). Its extension to all humanity must thus be considered 
as operative ‘in principle’ rather than in fact - an abstract definition which 
parallels Badiou’s use of sets to distinguish universalism from particularism.' 
Translated into such terms, Bergson’s open society designates the set of all 
humans, while closed societies are subsets of this set. However, the closed 
society does not present itself as a mere subset, but rather attempts to substitute 
itself for the set of humanity as a whole: that is, as we have seen, in terms of 
treatment, moral responsibility and so on, it counts only its own members as 
members of ‘humanity’. The open society, meanwhile, must recognize itself as 
fundamentally incomplete: those committed to it extend moral consideration 
beyond every putative human, indeed, potentially to all life (and ultimately 

The Empire that Never Ended 


perhaps to any part of the material universe with the potential for openness). 
These formal qualities of the closed and open society parallel very closely what 
Badiou describes as ‘particularizing’ and ‘universalisf multiplicities: 

• The particularizing multiplicity, the one accompanied by its own limit, 
marked by the predicate of its limit. The law is its cipher or letter. 

• The multiplicity that, exceeding itself, upholds universality. Its being in 
excess of itself precludes its being represented as a totality. Superabundance 
cannot be assigned to any Whole. (SP: 78) 

Badiou’s particularizing multiplicity is thus determined, just like the closed 
society, by its limits, its boundaries, while the multiplicity that upholds univer- 
sality cannot become a totality, but remains ‘in excess of itself’, just as the open 
society must include all humanity only by going beyond it: ‘We must, in a single 
bound, be carried far beyond [humanity], and, without having made it our goal, 
reach it by outstripping it’ (MR: 33). Bergson and Badiou are both concerned 
with a genuine universalism as opposed to a particularity presenting (fabulating, 
disguising) itself as such; both recognize that the genuinely universal cannot 
present itself as a totality, but must be characterized by superabundance, 
uncountabihty, openness. 

The life-death chiasmus 

Even if Bergson relies on an intuition of the creative force of life, while for Badiou 
‘life’ names a more abstract (though in his eyes political) principle requiring a 
declaration of fidelity to the event (in this case the event of Resurrection), there 
is a formal identity in the way both logics oppose a notion of life associated 
with truth and universality (or openness) to a notion of death associated with 
law and particularity (or closure). Furthermore, both thinkers attach great 
importance to the novel transformation of the human subject, which can 
be taken in both cases as a sign of a qualified posthumanist dimension. For 
Bergson, this involves life in its creative as opposed to homeostatic form, which 
through love is ‘capable of transposing human life into another tone’ (MR: 
99); Badiou meanwhile is concerned with an ‘affirmative life [...] restored and 
refounded’ (SP: 61) whereby ‘the subject participates in a new life’ (SP: 86), in a 
reaction against the prior subsumption of life under death and the Faw (SP: 62). 

While the difference between a vitalist and an abstract conception of 
the (new) subject might be crucial to a comparison of the Bergsonian and 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Badiouian (meta-)ontologies in themselves, with regard to the political and 
ethical question of the future of human existence, this significance diminishes. 
This can best be appreciated by considering that which each sets in opposition 
to ‘life’, by associating it with death. In Bergson’s case, as we have seen, the 
primary target is mechanization, the process through which the living is 
rendered non-living, reduced to the status of raw material or technological 
instrument, either through biological death or the restriction of various forms 
of autonomy. For Badiou, the equivalent association is between the principle of 
death and the Law: ‘First among the names of death [...] is Law’ (SP: 74). 

Law is death because it is on the side of particularity, dealing with opinion 
and custom, which can never be inscribed in a truth (SP: 76). Referring to the 
law’s ‘unfailingly “statist” character’, Badiou emphasizes that it ‘enumerates, 
names, and controls the parts of a situation (SP: 76). The clear convergence with 
Bergsonian mechanization here is further suggested by Badiou’s description 
of its effect upon the subject as introducing an ‘unconscious automatism with 
respect to which the involuntary subject is capable only of inventing death’ 
(SP: 79). This automatism mirrors the obligation which for Bergson is instilled 
in each member of the closed society, and which renders obedience virtually 

It is impossible to live a family life, follow a profession, attend to the thousand 
and one cares of the day [...] without obeying rules and submitting to obliga- 
tions. Every instant we have to choose, and we naturally decide on what is 
in keeping with the rule. We are hardly conscious of this; there is no effort. 
(MR: 19) 

This is not to say that Bergson considers us to be born this way: the processes 
of education and self-policing that enrol us in the social order (in Foucauldian 
terms, the disciplines that produce docility) still depend on a form of ‘resistance 
to self’ (MR: 20) - it is just that this resistance increasingly takes place in an 
‘instinctive or somnambulistic’ way (MR: 26). 

We have already considered how Dick’s ethics of balking, in which resisting 
such automatic obedience, particularly in contexts where the well-being of 
others is at stake, virtually defines the human. We have also seen that, for 
Bergson, consciousness itself is closely tied to hesitation, to the potentially 
indefinite delaying of the automatic response. The same can effectively be 
said of Badiou and Paul: what is at stake is a principle or tendency whereby 
what should be uncountable is represented as countable, reducing free will to 
controlled, scheduled actions, substituting the particular (the closed) for what 

The Empire that Never Ended 


should be universal (open). Law is a principle of death by virtue of its dehuman- 
izing effects on living humanity, as many readers of Paul have noted: ‘In Paul’s 
thought the law, which Christ gained mastery over after being born under its 
yoke (Gal. 4.4-5), comprises all the impersonal factors that condition man’ 
(Segundo 1974: 39). 

Furthermore, this automatism perpetuates itself, because such obedience 
generally entails the mechanizing of others (e.g. as when closed morality 
legitimates the killing or enslavement of non-members of the closed society). 
In viewing laws as ‘stabilized customs’, and suggesting that ‘originally the whole 
of morality is custom’ (MR: 123), Bergson effectively treats closed morality 
and law as co-extensive. This gives law an intrinsic imperialistic leaning, as it 
plays a crucial role in articulating the fabulations which present the closed or 
particular community as universal, and so attribute to all those outside the city 
walls the nonhuman status of resource or threat. Paul addresses this relationship 
between law and empire specifically in relation to his own context of the Roman 
Empire, but in such a way that his approach resonates with Bergson’s account 
of the formation of societies in general, and becomes a source of Christian and 
Badiouian universalism. For all three thinkers, the law claims to operate in the 
service of life, while actually supporting a particular subset of the living or the 
human and in this sense operating against life in general. Thus Bergson refers 
to the ‘mysticism of imperialism’, whereby the local morality or law (symbolized 
by the gods of the city) is disguised as the prescription of a universal God (MR: 
311), while Badiou, drawing on Paul, describes the law as the ‘empire of death’ 
(SP: 86). 

Yet if the law helps support the growth of empire, then the greater and 
more encompassing empire becomes, the more the falseness of its claim to 
universality should become visible. To illustrate this, we may conceive of closed 
societies - small groups or tribes - hving in total isolation. Until the moment 
two such groups come into direct contact there has, for their members, been a 
de facto coincidence between the particular and the universal, the community 
and the species, that has prevented the question of their incommensurability de 
jure from being raised. Suddenly, with contact, the difference acquires a funda- 
mental significance, and an immanent visibility. While power relations between 
different groups remain hierarchical and simple, this visibility may remain at 
a minimum - or at least, its acknowledgement may be seldom voiced; but as 
societies become more complex, as individuals and groups intermingle, whether 
through conquest, trade or migration, as different closed societies are superim- 
posed on one another, as new communitarian particularisms emerge and others 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

dissolve - then it is likely to become increasingly common for the particularism 
of the law, of governing customs and dominant religions, to be observed. Such 
conditions are created as large empires form, and intensified when they come 
into contact with one another: and one might argue that these conditions 
characterize Paul’s time and ours in particular - the eras of the Roman Empire 
and of late capitalism or global modernity. 

Badiou sees Paul as our contemporary precisely because he ‘wanted to 
destroy a model of society based on social inequality, imperialism, and slavery’ 
- which is why Pasolini could conceive of a film about Paul set in modern times 
but ‘without modifying any of his statements’ (SP: 37)T Likewise, Bergson, as we 
have seen, finds exemplary figures of the open(ing) soul in the early Christian 
mystics, including Jesus and Saint Paul, while at the same time situating the 
contemporary importance of such mysticism within the context of the modern 
mechanization of life, twentieth-century warfare and the threat of humanity’s 
self- annihilation. 

Badiou and Bergson each deploy a logic of salvation against the subjection 
of life to a principle of death - against its automatization, mechanization, 
destruction; both accounts of this subjection attend to the concurrent 
animation of life’s opposite - the process whereby that which is inanimate, 
dead, mechanical - is given life, as it were, artificially. The automatized activity 
of the closed society or particularity presents itself as open, universal (MR: 
38-9). The mistaking of closed morality for open, of mechanical activity for 
life, is as we have seen a central element in many of Dick’s early novels, which 
depict one flawed attempt at social engineering after another failing (usually 
spectacularly) to eradicate large-scale violence. Bergson suggests that, in the 
modern era especially, desire for commodities and comfort, for ‘easier material 
conditions’, has become a frenzy; the mechanisms or tools, the ‘artificial organs’ 
we have invented - increasingly take on a life of their own, inventing false needs 
and fulfilling them for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many (MR: 
309). Bergson’s allusion to the artificial life of the object echoes Marx’s account 
of the commodity - famously exemplified in his image of the table that ‘evolves 
out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas’ (Marx 1976: 163), and both Marx 
and Bergson here anticipate the dream-controlling beds, stubborn doors and 
spray-can deities that populate Dick’s worlds. 

It is desire that gives life to the inanimate - whether in the form of the ‘frenzy’ 
for luxuries and morals or in Paul’s use of the term epithumia to describe the 
sinful longing to possess (‘coveting’) (Rom. 7.7). Badiou writes that, ‘the law 
is what gives life to desire. But in so doing, it constrains the subject so that 

The Empire that Never Ended 


he wants to follow only the path of death’ (SP: 79). The desire to possess is 
inseparable from ‘the profound desire to conform’ (SP: 111) and both lead to 
progressive automatization or mechanization, whose terminus is death. Badiou 
represents this redistribution, whereby life is subordinated to a principle of 
death, and death is given artificial life, using the ‘figure of the chiasmus death/ 
life, coordinated by the law’ (SP: 85). The rhetorical device of the chiasmus has 
the particular characteristic of inverting two parallel elements or terms, as in the 
famous saying attributed to Jesus that ‘the first will be last, and the last will be 
first’ (Matt. 20.16). In Badiou’s life-death chiasmus, ‘the law distributes life on 
the side of the path of death, and death on the side of the path of life’ (SP: 82). 
A chiasmus implies two (opposed) meanings for each term, and the process of 
their reversal, a transformation of opposites. This rhetorical-conceptual doubled 
inversion is a central device in Paul’s writing, as we will see in Agamben’s reading 
below, where what Badiou terms a chiasmus is understood as the dividing of a 
division, the splitting of each of two opposed terms (here life and death) into 
two opposed meanings. 

Identifying the proximity between Bergson’s dynamic fabulation and Badiou’s 
life-death chiasmus (which is explicitly presented as belonging to a non-trans- 
cendent, political register) re-emphasizes that Bergson’s is an immanent 
soteriology, while expanding the vocabulary and collection of conceptual 
resources available for exploring its technical operation and effects. Together 
these resources are valuable for understanding not only Dick’s use of fabulation, 
but his strange, immanence-inflected relationship to religion and mysticism - 
which likewise draws powerfully on Paul’s struggle against the Roman Empire. 
As in the life-death chiasmus, dynamic fabulation simultaneously draws on 
and counters the effect of earlier fabulative activities that have congealed into 
the cultural fictions of the closed society. The (purportedly) open is revealed 
as closed, while the closed becomes open. In turn, this association brings 
out the importance of fiction or fabulation in Badiou and Paul: perceiving 
the fakeness of death masquerading as life, while reactivating the potential of 
that life which has been subsumed under the sign of death, requires an act of 
counter-fabulation, a conceiving of the non-actual as possible, for the purposes 
of rendering non-actual those fabulations which have taken on real, lived status. 
This fabulative dimension is most visible in the emphasis Badiou places - 
despite the high value he assigns to truth - on the importance of the fictionality 
of the Resurrection. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

The fictitious event 

For Badiou, it is at best irrelevant to Paul’s logic of salvation whether or not 
Christ actually died and returned to life, whether or not he performed miracles, 
in short, whether he was the literal ‘Son of God’. Paul makes Christ’s death 
the ‘evental site’ that creates the conditions for the event of the Resurrection 
precisely because it makes Christ mortal, subtracting his subjectivity from all 
the transcendent qualities attributed to him by the writers of the other Gospels: 
‘Through Christ’s death, God renounces his transcendent separation; he unsep- 
arates himself through filiation and shares in a constitutive dimension of the 
divided human subject’ (SP: 70). Badiou also stresses that the Resurrection is 
not even a historical event, but rather, with regard to its miraculous nature, 
‘fictitious’. Again, fidelity to this event should in no way be based on the notion 
of a transcendent God or saviour-figure able to overcome the laws of nature 
by miraculous acts. Rather, the truth to which we are asked to be faithful - the 
truth of the Resurrection-event - is that ‘a man [ . . .] capable of inventing death, 
is also capable of inventing life’ (SP: 69). The central role of the Resurrection- 
event in Badiou’s Paul is thus to immanentize salvation, to make clear that it is 
an operation humans are capable of carrying out.^ Fidelity to such an event is 
primarily a commitment to what in Badiou’s philosophical vocabulary consti- 
tutes its ‘truth. Where is the universality to this particular truth, that humans 
are capable of their own salvation? At first glance, on this point Bergson might 
appear more Badiouian than Badiou. Whereas the current of life that Bergson’s 
true mystic recovers is, at least in the terms of Two Sources, one that runs 
through all of us - our re-attachment to it waiting to be reawakened by the 
words and actions of an exemplary mystic figure (MR: 100) - Badiou’s soteri- 
ology asks for fidelity to an event which many are certain did not take place. 
Yet this only points to the particular nature of the kind of truth and the kind 
of operation that (immanent) salvation represents. For the possibility of the 
salvation of humanity by humanity - and in immanent terms, this must mean 
escape from actual, physical, socio-political and environmental destruction, 
from the enslaving of love and free will under the laws of desire and deter- 
minism - depends in the first instance upon human belief in that possibility. 
The universality of the truth of this event is that any person is capable of 
believing in it as the signifier of a principle - of declaring themselves faithful to 
this principle. Indeed, it is the ‘eventual declaration’ that is a truth’s ‘principle 
of life’ (SP: 27). This is, as we have seen, the point with which Bergson ends 
the Two Sources: humanity has the capacity for its own salvation, but - even 

The Empire that Never Ended 


before this becomes a question of will or resolve - lacks awareness of or belief 
in that capacity; likewise, much of humanity does not recognize the necessity of 
salvation - does not appreciate how critical its situation has become. He makes 
clear that ‘a decision is imperative’, that the possibility of escaping this great 
danger depends upon humanity choosing, seeking out, rather than stumbling 
upon or being directed towards a new path. In attaching such importance to the 
declaration of faith, Badiou, like Bergson, is addressing the problem (of the lack) 
of belief in the human need and capacity for self-salvation. 

If taking on the responsibility for determining their own future entails 
humans or subjects making a commitment, in Badiou’s terms, to a fictitious 
event, then this would seem to involve the direct and deliberate employment 
of what Bergson calls tabulation - the faith or belief in the non-actual in such 
a way that actual salvation may result. As Badiou puts it, ‘faith is the declared 
thought of a possible power of thought’ (SP: 88-9). This would correspond to a 
use of tabulation that openly acknowledges its fictionalizing character, and thus 
knowingly engages the soteriological potential of fiction. 

The messianic tension 

In examining aspects of the modern philosophical turn to Paul as political 
theologian, we are able to get a better sense of what an immanent soteriology 
might look like, of the role and shape of dynamic fabulation within it, and 
in the process acquire an understanding of some of the less obvious aspects 
of the affinity between Dick and Paul. Agamben, in focusing on particular 
technical devices of Paul’s writing, emphasizes a performative-transformative 
power which not only resonates with what I have already identified as the key 
elements of the Bergsonian and Badiouian immanent soteriologies, but presages 
a number of effects which Dick’s writing produces through similar devices. 

Agamben attempts to establish Paul’s contemporary relevance primarily 
through revealing a series of hidden influences of his messianism on modern 
thinkers - such as a connection between the Pauline klesis (vocation) and 
class in Marx (TR: 30); the origins of the Hegelian Aufhebung (via Martin 
Luther) in Paul’s katargesis (literally meaning ‘rendering- inactive’) (TR: 99); 
the effect of Paul’s use of the term has me (‘as (if) not’) on Heidegger’s devel- 
opment of the dialectic between the proper (Eigentlichkeit) and the improper 
(Uneigentlichkeit) (TR: 34); and the paradigm of messianic time {ho nyn kairos) 
as the undeclared source of Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

(TR: 138-45). This more genealogical approach, attempting to (re-)establish a 
sense of a Pauline heritage within modern Continental philosophy, by no means 
indicates that Agamben’s Paul lacks the potential Badiou attributes to him for 
directly addressing our contemporary global political situation. 

For Agamben, the central operation of Pauline messianism is the putting to 
work, in various forms, of what he calls ‘the messianic tension, which is consti- 
tutive of both his gestures towards universalism and the concept of ‘messianic 
time’. One of the most prominent operations of this messianic tension is 
achieved through Paul’s use of the hos me. This term, translated in the form ‘as 
not’ (quasi non), is for Agamben ‘a special type of tensor’ that sets a concept’s 
semantic field not against that of another concept, but against itself (TR: 24). 
As Paul writes, in the messianic time of the now (ho nyn kairos), ‘those who 
have wives may be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though 
they didn’t weep; and those who rejoice, as though they didn’t rejoice; and those 
who buy, as though they didn’t possess’ (1 Cor. 7.29-30).'* In nearly every case, 
Agamben notes, the hos me contrasts neither one verb or state with another - 
nor two different verb tenses or different times - but negates the same verb, and 
in the same time-frame. It does ‘not compare two distinct terms but puts each 
being and each term in a tension with itself’ (TR: 43). We might say that each 
use of the hos me equates to the inversion of a term’s meaning effected through a 
chiasmus. Agamben effectively reads Paul’s rhetorical technique grammatically 
where Badiou reads it diagrammatically (the literal meaning of ‘chiasmus’ being 

As with the chiasmus, we can thus already discern in Agamben’s hos me 
indications that some kind of counter-fabulation is at work - the setting of some 
aspect of perceived reality against itself, for the purposes of salvation. Agamben 
identifies the same messianic tension in Paul’s use of the term klesis (meaning 
‘calling’, ‘vocation’). By virtue of the fact that he is ‘called’ (kletos) by God to be 
an apostle, Paul is able to oppose every worldly klesis, every calling, profession, 
social position as designated by law and the state: ‘The messianic vocation is the 
revocation of every vocation (TR: 23, original italics). Just as the hos me places 
a term and state of being in tension with itself rather than with another, the 
messianic vocation does not confer on Paul a social role that is superior to other 
roles, but revokes ‘every factical vocation’ (TR: 25). The divisions the state (or 
the closed society) makes, in the identification and organization of its people, in 
terms of the varying rights and freedoms it accords to or withholds from different 
groups, are thus nullified, at least so far as Paul is concerned, by this messianic 
klesis, which is bound inextricably to the operations of the hos me: 

The Empire that Never Ended 


The messianic vocation is not a right, nor does it furnish an identity; rather, it 
is a generic potentiality [potenza] that can be used without ever being owned. 

To be messianic, to live in the Messiah, signifies the expropriation of each and 
every juridical-factical property (circumcised/uncircumcised; free/slave; man/ 
woman) under the form of the as not. (TR: 26) 

Agamben concurs with Badiou in suggesting that Paul proceeds to univer- 
salism only through the rejection of particularisms, while the concepts or states 
opposed - fixed identity versus potentiality, ownership versus ‘using without 
owning’ - resonate with the Bergsonian opposition between closed and open. 
Furthermore, just as the soteriologies of both Bergson and Badiou are oriented 
around an immanent conception of salvation, so the messianic tension is 
used to make immanent (or, to use Agamben’s phrase, to place in a ‘zone of 
indistinction’ between immanence and transcendence) those aspects of the 
discussion of salvation that in the other Gospels, and in the words of the biblical 
prophets, appear definitively transcendent. The hos me, as the linguistic tensor 
signifying and constituting the effect of messianic klesis, contracts what in a 
transcendent soteriology would be two times or epochs (the present dominated 
by oppressive worldly conditions and a mythical heavenly future) and two 
states of being (factical existence and an imagined, prophesied or fantastical 
other state) into the here and now: ‘the messianic vocation is a movement 
of immanence, or, if one prefers, a zone of absolute indiscernability between 
immanence and transcendence, between this world and the future world’ 
(TR: 25). For Agamben as for Badiou - perhaps for modern thought in general 
- Paul is deemed politically and philosophically valuable only to the extent 
that his writing or thought can be ‘immanentized’. Yet 1 want to emphasize that 
such a process need not involve the total eradication of any thought or idea 
of transcendence: Paul’s concern remains the rendering-thinkable of what has 
become unthinkable, for the purposes of a worldly transformation that would 
irreducibly constitute salvation. 

The remnant and messianic time 

The closest Agamben comes to the Bergsonian terminology of open and closed 
in this text is in his discussion of the relationship between the part (meros), 
the all {pas, panta) and the remnant (leimma). Analysing the relations between 
these key Pauline terms, Agamben argues that Paul views the present, factical 
state of human existence as being under the principle of ek merous - ‘in part’. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

or divided. Just as the closed society is characterized by discontinuity, count- 
ability - the segregation of groups, classes, races, the homogenization of people 
as slaves, workers, capital - so ‘[ejverything here is divided, everything is ek 
merous, “in part’” (TR: 55). Living ‘in part’ is a state which Paul describes as 
being ‘under the Law’, as opposed to living in the time of salvation, when ‘all 
of Israel will be saved’ (Rom. 1 1 .26). For Agamben, the purpose of Paul’s intro- 
duction of messianic tension is to overcome the seemingly insurmountable 
separation of these two states - the immanence of Law and the transcendence of 
salvation. Whether in the form of the hos me or some other (the ‘cut of Apelles’, 
the messianic klesis, the euaggelion), Agamben argues that Paul’s messianic 
tensor works by introducing a remnant that cannot be restricted to either state 
- thus ‘dividing’ the division between them. 

A key example is the division of the flesh/breath (sarx/pneuma) division. The 
(religious and political) division made by the law equates those who are Jewish 
according to the flesh (circumcised) with those who are spiritually saved - just as 
we saw above that the isolated closed society equates its own members with the 
whole of humanity (i.e. views only its corporally countable subjects as deserving 
of salvation, worthy of life). Paul introduces the sarx/pneuma division in order 
to upset this identification, making it possible to recognize that there are those 
who are Jewish according to the flesh (sarx), circumcised, yet who are not neces- 
sarily saved in terms of spirit (pneuma), while there will be those who are not 
circumcised but who are nevertheless saved in spirit. In other words, beyond the 
subset of Jews (according to the flesh) there will now be a remnant of non-Jews 
(according to the flesh) who are still Jews (according to the spirit); while among 
the non-Jews (according to the flesh) there will be a remnant of Jews (according 
to the flesh) who are not Jews (according to the spirit): the remnant is ‘what 
prevents divisions from being exhaustive and excludes the parts and the all from 
the possibility of coinciding with themselves’ (TR: 56). In this sense, it is ‘not so 
much the object of salvation as its instrument’ (TR: 56), performing the same 
operation as Badiou’s life-death chiasmus. The primary soteriological activity 
thus moves from adherence to a particular closed morality, to the rejection of 
the latter, the detachment of salvation from any predetermination according to 
bodily signs or other forms of identification. It is dynamic in that it must open 
up any closed notion of salvation. 

As we have seen, the immanent disjunction within the closed society is 
the difference which it fails to recognize between the totality of its members 
and the totality of humanity, between the particular and the universal. The 
discursive production of the remnant, whether this entails the recognition that 

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there are humans beyond the walls of the city, or that those accounted for by a 
given morality do not yet (and never will) include all that should count, reveals 
this disjunction within the closed society, and inaugurates or promotes its 
opening. The remnant is the figure that reveals the false presentation of the part 
(meros) as all (pas), opening it to challenge and transformation: ‘The remnant is 
therefore both an excess of the all with regard to the part, and of the part with 
regard to the all. It functions as a very peculiar kind of soteriological machine’ 
(TR: 56). A figure for that which tends to go unnoticed or unrecognized is thus 
also an intensifier; it enhances tensions that had previously been ignored even 
as it puts their sustainability into question. 

Dick’s work can be described in these terms, as driven in part by the 
repeated discovery or production of the remnant. The basic pattern involves the 
depiction of a particular ‘reality’ with some unusual element(s); the production 
of a worldview or theory which accounts for this reality; and the discovery of 
a remnant, defined as something which does not fit within that worldview, 
something that remains unaccounted for when everything else seems to have 
been explained. That which is left over - whether object, subject, fact, event - 
drives the action, as its incommensurability with perceived reality leads to the 
realization that something is wrong with either the worldview or the world, and 
their partial or total collapse. Viewing this general Dickian structure in terms of 
the Pauline remnant sheds light on its soteriological function and potential. 

Yet salvation for Dick and his characters can seldom, if ever, be considered 
something achieved with finality. Even when a new world, perspective or theory 
replaces that which has fallen apart, there will always be another remnant. We 
will see this in each of the following chapters, as Dick’s discovery/production 
of remnants allows numerous fictions inherent to closed morality to be opened 
up. Wherever there is a clear, accepted division - such as real history from 
alternative history, the human from the android, the saved from the damned 
- something emerges which defies the efficacy of such categories, and which, 
despite attempts to modify category boundaries, refuses to go away. This leads, 
in the sense of Agamben/Paul, to a dividing of the division, such that every 
previously accepted category must be reconceived. Of the novels discussed in 
the previous chapter. Time Out of Joint constitutes the most typical example of 
this process, with the remnant taking the forms of inconsistent memories (e.g. of 
a missing light cord), slips of paper replacing absent objects, telephone numbers 
representing non-existent places and magazine articles about unheard-of celeb- 
rities - all functioning as part of the soteriological machine. In The Man in the 
High Castle, as we will see in the following chapter, small, solid objects play the 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

role of remnant in transcending the split between ‘mainstream’ and alternative 
history. The remnant may also be a person - as in the case of Jason Taverner, 
the protagonist of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (2001 [1974]), who is 
contained by none of the socio-political categories set up to organize the world 
in which he finds himself - not only is his identity erased, but even classifica- 
tions such as ‘criminal’ or ‘without papers’ fail to apply. Whereas aspects of 
Dick’s novels often draw comparisons with Kafka, in the case of Flow My Tears it 
is as though the typical Kafakaesque relationship between a protagonist and an 
impenetrable bureaucratic apparatus, for instance in The Castle (1997 [1926]), 
where everything functions to close off, block, clamp, lock down, were reversed, 
so that Taverner, unlike K., slips through every checkpoint, entrapment, arrest 
or other attempt to hold him, right through to the home of the Police General 
and away again to his eventual freedom. 

What Agamben calls ‘messianic time’, then, is as much a remnant or remainder 
as any object or category of personhood; it is the ‘time that remains’ once we 
subtract the notion of a transcendent future time of salvation, and a present time 
of suffering without redemption - each of which must be deemed unacceptable 
within a perspective which places high value on ending this suffering. In other 
words, in contradistinction to both the time under the law, when those who are 
weeping must continue to suffer, and the future/other time of salvation, when 
those who are (now) weeping under the law will (then) be rejoicing in eternal 
life, the hos me introduces the notion of those who are weeping now as not 
weeping now. Such a possibility, I suggest, involves an irreducible fabulative 
element, a capacity to believe in that which intellectual reason suggests must be 
impossible. Through such a belief, as we saw in our engagement with Bergson’s 
Two Sources, fabulation makes the hitherto impossible become possible. 

The magic of language 

A final point to draw here from Agamben’s reading of Paul concerns the way in 
which open or dynamic fabulation achieves its effects, not just in the register of 
abstract ideas, but in terms of lived experience: its potential (and its potency) 
lies in its ability to effect a recognition of both the necessity and the possibility 
of salvation - bridging the gap between immanence and transcendence not only 
theoretically, but in terms of the gap between perceived reality and the figures 
of salvation that are conventionally, at least from a modern secular perspective, 
treated as pure fiction. It is in this dimension of his fabulating, beyond his more 

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overtly Pauline ethics, that Dick, consciously or not, can be seen to be operating 
a soteriological machine very similar to that of Paul. 

Bringing the remnant to consciousness, providing perspectives which divide 
divisions otherwise taken for granted as circumscribing self-sufficient unities, 
constructing in language forms of the life-death chiasmus, are all ways of 
working and intensifying the messianic tension. Yet there is more to the soterio- 
logical role of fabulation than this: the importance of faith, raised by Badiou, 
is also recognized by Agamben, who poses an crucial question regarding the 
euaggelion, the promise of salvation in which faith (pistis) is placed in a direct 
relationship with presence (parousia): ‘What is a logos that can enact a presence 
for whomever hears it and believes?’ (TR: 89). Our Bergsonian answer to this 
question is, of course, ‘fabulation’ - though I would want to add that fabulation 
is by no means restricted to language or logos. Both Badiou and Agamben attend 
to the importance Paul effectively assigns to performativity when he writes: ‘For 
man believes with his heart and is so justiffed, and he confesses with his lips and 
so is saved’ (Rom. 10.10; cited in Badiou, SP: 88).^ For Badiou, Paul is calling 
for a ‘declaration of ffdelity’ to the Resurrection-event that would not only 
state a belief in humanity’s capacity to create new life, but enable that capacity: 
‘The announcement is power for the salvation of he who believes’ (Rom. 
1.16). Meanwhile Agamben suggests that, in order to think the euaggelion, in 
which the worded promise of salvation coincides with the object promised, 
we require ‘an experience of language in which the text of the letter is at every 
point indistinguishable from the announcement and from the good announced’ 
(TR: 90). The announcement entails a certain potentiality (dynamis), which 
must be complemented by faith (pistis) in order to be activated, to actualize that 
potential in action or energeia. 

The importance of this performative declaration of faith lies in the fact that 
the possibility of salvation is a particular kind of future occurrence. That is, not 
only is it more likely to occur if one believes in it, but such fidelity is its necessary 
condition, and indeed, quite possibly a sufficient condition. It is worth noting 
here that if one were to attempt to produce such an effect through a novel, it 
would be useful to have some means by which elements described in the world 
of the novel could become literally ‘true’ or ‘real’ in the world of the reader - 
entailing a crossing or disrupting of the diegetic boundary. This type of effect 
is a hallmark of much late twentieth- century fiction that is often collectively 
referred to by literary critics as ‘metafiction’ (see Waugh 1984; Hutcheon 1985; 
Currie 1995). However, I would suggest that the metafictive elements of Dick’s 
writing operate in a way that is more intensely affective - more immediate and 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

organic, arising as a by-product of other elements - than in many of the more 
frequently cited examples of metafiction, such as works by Jorge Luis Borges, 
John Barth or William H. Gass. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle has within 
its fictional world a novel which apparently describes the readers’ own world 
(though with crucial differences that also call this into question). We will see 
in the following chapter how it is Juliana Frink’s declaration of fidelity to the 
truth of Hawthorne Abendsen’s alternative reality that constitutes her potential 
salvation, reflecting the possibility of the reader’s own acquisition of faith in the 
performative truth of Dick’s alternative reality. Yet it is in the more mundane 
details of the characters’ experience, the ease with which we feel that they, 
despite belonging to a nightmarish alternative reality, might easily fit into our 
own, that the diegesis is rendered permeable. The affective immediacy with 
which Dick puts supposedly real and fictional worlds into contact resonates 
with the coincidence of word and object in Agamben’s understanding of the 
euaggelion, in a way that contrasts starkly with the ‘literary self-consciousness’ 
(Waugh 1984: 21-61) and foregrounding of linguistic construction character- 
izing many critically attended examples of metafiction. 

Agamben implies that the coincidence between word and thing is funda- 
mentally related to the notion of faith, pistis, noting the latter’s proximity to the 
ancient Greek pistos, which he identifies as meaning ‘trustworthy’ - worthy of 
another’s faith. Such trustworthiness is often embodied in the horkos, an object 
that one holds while making an oath, and metonymically representing the oath 
itself (TR: 114). This object acts as a guarantee, supposedly being imbued with 
the power to kill the oath-maker should they fail to fulfil their pledge. In Dick’s 
Martian Time-Slip (1999a [1964]), a ‘water witch’ given to the main character 
Jack Bohlen by the Bleekmen, the indigenous people of a newly colonized Mars, 
functions as a horkos, compressing the promise it symbolizes and the fulfilment 
of that pledge in a particular messianic temporality. The water witch is supposed 
to bring water to the bearer whenever they are in dire need - though in referring 
to water as ‘the source of life’, the donor indicates that it may be understood 
as a symbol for whatever it is that is required for salvation at a particular time 
of crisis (1999a: 25). Through the non-linear temporal twists of the story, 
the scene is later repeated, with differences: the second time around, another 
character, Arnie Kott, attempts to kill Jack before he receives the gift, yet one 
of the Bleekmen, perceiving his intention, shoots Arnie with a poisoned arrow. 
Thus the symbol of salvation, the water witch, is exchanged for the actual act 
of salvation - and in a peculiar temporality which simultaneously divides the 
present from itself, conflating two alternative time-frames. 

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Agamben takes the horkos, like the euaggelion, to be a signifier of ‘a preju- 
ridical sphere in which magic, religion, and law are absolutely indiscernible 
from one another’ (TR: 114). It is this sphere to which the ‘word of faith’ - the 
energeia of the announcement - hearkens back - and from which it acquires 
its ‘performative efficacy’ (TR: 131). Agamben goes so far as to suggest that 
speech acts are themselves a hangover from this primordial cultural state: 
‘To do things with words could even be considered as a residue in language 
of a magical-juridical state of human existence, in which words and deeds, 
linguistic expression and real efficacy, coincide’ (TR: 132). Paul’s messianic 
announcement, and indeed the messianic tension that operates throughout the 
Pauline vocabulary, in such forms as the hos me and the messianic (re)vocation, 
is this performativity, going ‘beyond the denotative relation between language 
and the world toward a different and more originary status of the word’ 
(TR: 134). Agamben places the performative efficacy of the word of faith at the 
heart and origin of religious belief, exactly where Bergson locates fabulation. 

When dealing with Paul, as with Bergson’s true mystic, we are clearly 
concerned not only with an attempt to activate this performative efficacy, but to 
do so as a challenge to existing religious beliefs, as well as various other mecha- 
nizing cultural fictions which have been established on its basis (e.g. those 
which function through and as law, the state, imperialism). The performative 
power Agamben finds in Paul constitutes a residue of this magical-juridical state 
in language, meaning that it is not coterminous with, and quite likely precedes 
language. Hence language would be one cultural development among many 
which emerged from that less determinate state: such developments established 
the cohesion of the closed society, but are, in the hands of Paul, turned against 
themselves, through the messianic tension. This is how dynamic fabulation 
becomes (or reprises its originary status as) a counter-fabulation, targeting the 
fictions of the closed society to which fabulation first gave power, such as the 
divine authority of the Church, the superiority of an elite ‘chosen’ few, or the 
notion that salvation is dependent on corporal signs. 

Sci-fi: The genre of ‘as not’ 

Among the huge variety of definitions of modern science fiction that have been 
proposed and debated, one which seems to have particular currency, is the 
suggestion that it extrapolates novel scenarios from initial questions posed in 
the form ‘what if ...?’ This bears an obvious proximity to the hos me, which as 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

we have seen Agamben translates with the phrase quasi non, ‘as (if) not’. Here is 
a clear formulation of the standard ‘what if?’ definition, taken from a guide to 
writing science fiction: 

Perhaps the crispest definition is that science fiction is a literature of ‘what if?’ 
What if we could travel in time? What if we were living on other planets? What 
if we made contact with alien races? And so on. The starting point is that the 
writer supposes things are different from how we know them to be.*^ (Evans 
1988: 2) 

The last sentence highlights something which is generally implicit in the phrase 
‘what if?’ when used this way: the notion that in conceiving, writing, reading 
science fiction, we consider fantastic elements in direct contrast to known 
reality. This implication is echoed in Darko Suvin’s more complex definition 
of science fiction as a ‘literature of cognitive estrangement’, which has been 
hugely influential, though much debated, in academic discussions of science 
fiction. Estrangement, as in the tradition of Schlovsky and Brecht, here entails 
‘confronting a set normative system - a Ptolemaic-type closed world picture - 
with a point of view or glance implying a new set of norms’ (Suvin 1979: 374). 
The qualification that this must be ‘cognitive’ indicates that the basis of this new 
point of view is extrapolated from the empirical environment (Suvin 1979: 375). 

What underpins these popular and academic definitions of science fiction 
is the recognition of its capacity for putting into close contact that which is 
known (commonly accepted) and that which is known not to be (commonly 
not beheved). Such a capacity is arguably more literally captured by the ‘as not’ 
or hos me, with its exphcit negating component, than the ‘what if?’ A science 
fiction plot conceived based on the question ‘what if people could fly?’ would 
probably not be set in a world where everyone has always been able to fly (the 
latter would be a more likely setting for what many would think of as ‘fantasy’). 
Science fiction convention would have someone developing the ability to fly, 
whether through some advanced technology or the development of superheroic 
powers, within an otherwise realistic setting, that is, one which in other respects 
could be a world we recognize as our own, or one of its possible futures. 

Without drawing any strong conclusions, we might find a further hint in 
this applicability of the hos me to science fiction that we are dealing with a 
genre particularly well suited to the activation of the messianic tension, offering 
valuable resources not only in its stock elements, but in its dominant conceptual 
mode, for a fabulative soteriology. Beyond ‘fictionalizing the known, science 
fiction entails the (fabulative) construction of what is given as not given, the 

The Empire that Never Ended 


placing of certain factical states of being in tension with themselves. It sustains 
an inherent injunction to introduce the new into the world in contrast with that 
world, and may be one of the forms of modern fiction most connected to the 
original fabulation function. If the Bergsonian account of the originary binding 
of fiction to salvation is correct, science fiction retains great soteriological 
potential in the modern era, whether its themes are religious or not; and this 
may have much to do with its emergence in the context of mechanization, the 
set of conditions from which salvation is most critically required. Moreover, 
in its general orientation towards the future, science fiction has an in-built 
mechanism for the use of the messianic tension to produce messianic time. 

Even if such a hypothesis carries any force, it certainly does not amount 
to a suggestion that all science fiction displays these salvational qualities, or 
operates in the dynamic or open mode of fabulation I am exploring here: on 
the contrary, much science fiction probably feeds into the very closed fabula- 
tions - dominant, carefully limited notions of the human, its society, technology 
and ethics - which make up the mechanizing forms of closed morality today. 
Yet it might still be suggested that there is an inherent, structural potential, a 
messianic dynamis in science fiction as a genre or method, which the energeia of 
Philip Dick’s works among others - driven, like Paul’s soteriological writing by 
love or caritas (as both Agamben and Badiou are careful to emphasize) - brings 
into effect. 

Conclusion: Gnostic politics 

In some of its central aspects, the recent engagement with Paul’s political 
theology could be said to echo a very old gnostic tradition of Pauline exegesis, 
one that has largely been absent from mainstream Christian theology due to the 
historical portrayal of Paul as anti-gnostic. Elaine Pagels’ work on the relation 
of gnosticism to Paul and the New Testament, however, presents this tradition 
as one in which Paul has already long been used as a challenge to hierarchy, not 
only in the form of Empire, but of the Church itself 

Both Agamben and Badiou challenge a literal reading of Paul’s writing on 
the separation of Jews and non-Jews - Agamben, as we have seen, arguing that 
Paul further divides and thus destabilizes this separation, Badiou identifying 
in it the universalist principle that ‘“ethnic” or cultural difference, of which the 
opposition between Greek and Jew is in [Paul’s] time [...] the prototype, is no 
longer significant with regard to the real’ (SP: 57). Yet as Pagels has shown, the 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

notion of a literal interpretation of Paul’s discussion of the separation of Jews 
and Gentiles was already ‘a dated issue’ for the Valentinian gnostic readers of 
the second century (1992: 6). For them, the universalist Paul, who recognizes an 
obligation to both Jews and non-Jews, Greeks and barbarians, is already legible, 
and indeed constitutes an important gnostic source. In this sense, the dominant 
interpretation of Paul that became the basis of institutionalized Christianity 
can be considered a rendering static or closed of the dynamic, open fabulations 
of Paul’s writing: from the Valentinian perspective, as from the perspectives of 
Agamben and Badiou, the real Paul - or the Paul worth maintaining as real - 
is the one who attempts to resist this closure, to prevent the particular from 
dominating the universal, the closed from replacing the open. 

The question of the ontological status of the Resurrection has a central place 
in this struggle. By tying the inheritance of Jesus’s leadership to those who had 
actually witnessed his literal, physical return, those concerned with establishing 
the early Christian Church could restrict authority to a select few, requiring 
all contemporary and subsequent community leaders to derive their authority 
from the apostles and their successors. In contrast, according to Pagels, gnostic 
Christians saw the Resurrection as a spiritual truth rather than an actual event, 
a symbolic expression of the possibility that anyone might be ‘resurrected from 
the dead’ at any time, to become spiritually alive (2006: 41-2) - precisely the 
process Badiou describes using the figure of the life-death chiasmus. Dick’s 
novel Counter-Clock World (1977a [1967]) could be read as illustrating a similar 
position, in rendering Resurrection commonplace due to a cosmic event that 
reverses certain biological and temporal processes, and yet having it result 
neither in salvation nor in everlasting life: that it is spiritual rather than physical 
renewal that is essential is underscored by the swiftly aborted return of a widely 
anticipated saviour-figure (the Anarch Peak), and the general fate of those who 
live out their lives in anticipation of a precisely dated end, following a decline 
into the dementia of childhood. 

The importance they laid on the spiritual/ symbolic dimension of Resurrection 
does not mean that the gnostics disdained visions of Christ’s return. It is the 
literal interpretation of such visions that they refused. In the gnostic ‘Treatise 
on the Resurrection, for example, the author makes the very Badiouian point 
that resurrection stands for ‘the transformation of things, and a transition into 
newness’, a symbol representing the fact that everyone is capable of consid- 
ering themselves ‘risen’ - and that despite its primarily symbolic value, it 
should be viewed as a truth against which it is the rest of the world that is an 
illusion (Robinson 1990: 56). The conflict between early orthodox and gnostic 

The Empire that Never Ended 


Christianity can thus be construed not as a struggle over different versions of the 
truth, between competing historical accounts, but as the competition between 
a simple and a sophisticated understanding of the relationship between truth 
and fiction, reality and unreality. This is bound up with the shift from Hellenic 
to Hellenistic (e.g. Alexandrian) thought, whereby, as Whitehead put it in 
Adventures of Ideas (1942 [1933]: 125-6), an emphasis on ‘delight, speculation, 
discursive literature’ was gradually replaced by an emphasis on thoroughness, 
specialist exactitude and scholarly authority; the pregnant ambiguities and 
perplexities expressed by Plato, were replaced by a requirement that ideas be 
judged simply ‘right or wrong’ (Whitehead 1942: 126). The authority of the 
Church, at least in the period of its emergence, likewise relies on maintaining a 
simple opposition between true and false, real and fake, in which every declared 
event and fact must be situated on one side or the other: Jesus really, literally 
appeared to this person, and not to this one; this is a miracle, a sign of divine 
action, while this is not; these people have divine authority, these are false 
claimants. Gnostic Christianity, in contrast, can be read as finding reality in 
the visionary experience itself. Thus when Bishop Irenaeus attacks Valentinian 
gnostics for creating ‘imaginary fiction’, ‘new forms of mythological poetry’ and 
for relying on feeling and intuition rather than divine authority (Pagels 2006: 
48), he is criticizing precisely what those same gnostics see as a great resource, 
the soteriological use of fiction (or in other words, fabulation).^ 

The Paul of Badiou, Agamben and other modern thinkers, rediscovered as 
a political theologian and thinker of universalism, can thus be identified with 
a gnostic Paul. Pagels’ argument is only possible in light of the discovery of the 
Nag Hammadi texts, a large collection of gnostic writings discovered in Egypt 
in 1945 (but which did not appear in a modern translation until the 1970s). 
This discovery was also of great interest to Dick, whose identification with 
gnosticism recurs throughout the pages of the Exgesis, as well as having a great 
influence on his late novels (see the discussion of VALIS in Chapter 6 of this 
book, and Erik Davis’ account of gnosticism and the contemporary information 
society, TechGnosis (1998), in which he draws on Dick’s mystical experiences). 
The argument for a gnostic Paul allows us to see the compatibility between 
these two strands of religious/theological thought, and their complementarity 
as Dickian influences, where otherwise the appeal of one might have seemed to 
contradict the other. Whether consciously or not, what Dick finds in each, as in 
science fiction as a genre of ‘as not’, is a saving power of fiction. 

Eor the Valentian gnostics, to understand Paul was to recognize that in order 
to write for both a specialized and a general audience, he wrote his letters ‘in 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

two ways at once’ (Clement of Alexandria, quoted in Pagels 1992: 7). We may 
identify these two ways as static and dynamic respectively. The reader or listener 
still strongly bound to a particular closed fabulation as part of a closed morality, 
regarding, for example, the Resurrection as literal historical occurrence, will hear 
a confirmation of her beliefs in Paul’s writing and preaching. A group formed on 
the basis of such views regards itself as God’s chosen people, the initiated elite, 
in a closed form modelled on the select group of the apostles; its boundaries are 
maintained, however great the number within them becomes. This notion of 
the ‘initiated’ is inverted, however, if one takes Paul’s texts as highlighting and 
embodying the constitutive role of the fictional - of symbolic and spiritual truth 
- in religious experience. Whereas the special gnosis (knowledge) by which the 
gnostic Christians defined themselves may give them the outward appearance 
of cultish mystics, what it really amounts to is the knowledge that anyone may 
have a relationship with the divine, through creative activity, through fictional- 
izing, and that all claims to privileged, exclusive access to God are themselves 
pure, static fictions. As Pagels puts it, ‘on this theory, the structure of authority 
can never be fixed into an institutional framework: it must remain spontaneous, 
charismatic, and open’ (2006: 53). 

This is not therefore a straightforward case of two layers of meaning. As we 
saw in the context of Bergson’s Two Sources, the distinction between static and 
dynamic must itself be considered dynamic, as opposed to simply descriptive. 
Paul’s sense of dual responsibility, which leads him to write simultaneously ‘in 
two ways’, is itself a dynamic gesture of opening, attempting to affect the static 
meaning over which it is superimposed. In addressing those who are believers 
according to the spirit, he identifies a dynamic and boundless ‘elite’ composed 
of those who will allow any individual to count themselves as a member - effec- 
tively an anti-elite - in place of those who would restrict religious authority to 
their own limited group, defined according to specific ritualistic, bodily and 
doctrinal criteria. Political theology is a useful term - intended to indicate, I 
think, the relevance of Paul’s writings for an era and a worldview characterized 
by an immanent, materialist perspective, in which ‘salvation’ must entail earthly 
emancipation, through political struggle. Yet we should not neglect that the very 
severity of the material conditions which necessitate this emancipation render 
the adequate thinking of it, let alone its achievement, at the very limits of human 
possibility. The transcendent dimension of the soteriological is of great value 
to Paul in his urgent quest to transform the world, politically and culturally. 
In this sense he is a political soteriologist; and it this, rather than theology or 
even religious belief, that Dick shares with Paul. Dick’s vision of ancient Rome 

The Empire that Never Ended 


as a present condition, experienced in the form of an instantaneous fabulation, 
allows him to address and explore intellectually what he already grasps intuit- 
ively - that salvation must come from himself, from his own creative capacity. 
The difficulty, and the continual task faced by his or any other immanent soteri- 
ology, is to allow the intellect to go on treating the saviour as someone who 
comes from outside. 

In the remaining three chapters, focused on extended readings of particular 
novels, we will see how Dick approaches this task, which requires him not 
simply to write, but perhaps to think simultaneously ‘in two ways’ that on the 
surface may seem contradictory. In doing so, his dynamic fabulation opens up 
the closed fabulations which have come to make up the more powerful and 
established aspects of the dominant ‘reality’ of the human, its history, and its 
spiritual and technological environments. 


Objects of Salvation: The Man in the 
High Castle 

[The science fiction writer’s] story or novel is in a sense a protest, but not a 
political one; it is a protest against concrete reality in an unusual way. 

(Dick 1995b [1974]: 74) 

The fabulation of history 

Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1965 [1962]) is an example of what is 
sometimes regarded as a sub-genre of science fiction, the alternative history 
novel. A typical alternative history narrative realistically presents a world which 
has diverged from the recognizable, historical ‘real-world’ course of events, 
imagining how things would have turned out differently if a certain event 
had (or had not) taken place. Whether such narratives should be considered 
science fiction at all is open to question: going by genre convention, one might 
classify as science fiction only those examples in which the divergence between 
timelines is produced by a future technology such as time travel. Yet whether 
we engage in such classificatory exercises or not, the defining traits of the alter- 
native history narrative resonate strongly with the idea of narrating reality ‘as 
not’, which I suggested in the previous chapter might be a useful way to think 
the potentiality of science fiction as a genre. Whether such narratives, and The 
Man in the High Castle in particular, also share the Pauline connotations of the 
‘as not’, entering into a certain soteriological mode, is a question to be addressed 
in the course of this chapter. 

For the purposes of this account of High Castle, I will use the term 
‘mainstream history’ to refer to the historical timeline from which the history 
of the novel ostensibly diverges. This is in recognition of the fact that what the 
alternative timeline is set against need not be understood as an absolutely ‘real’ 
or ‘true’ history, but that it at least corresponds broadly to the dominant Western 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

cultural and political understanding and accounts of modern history. Even if its 
truth-status is radically open to question from a range of critical, constructionist 
and subaltern perspectives, mainstream history can nevertheless be expected 
to be recognizable to the majority of Dick’s readers to date, as that which they 
have likely encountered in school textbooks, mainstream media and everyday 

In the alternative timeline of High Castle, the primary difference from 
mainstream history is that the Axis powers were victorious rather than having 
been defeated in the Second World War, leading to the occupation of the United 
States (along with most of the world) by Nazi and Japanese forces. Publishers of 
the novel have naturally exploited the potential shock-value of this premise: the 
covers of many editions, especially those published in English, are dominated 
by a swastika, one of the most hated symbols of the post-war Western world, 
usually shown imposing itself upon a conventionally definitive symbol of the 
USA - a Coke bottle, a hamburger, the American flag, or simply a map of the 
United States. (The publishers of Philip Roth’s more recent alternative history 
novel The Plot Against America [2004] used a similar strategy by showing on its 
cover a US postage stamp bearing a swastika.) This exploitation simultaneously 
operates on the verbal level, for example through re-titling translations, as in the 
Italian La svastica sul sole {The Swastika on the Sun), or more generally through 
tag-lines making claims about the novel’s power and content: the first edition 
announced itself on the front cover as ‘an electrifying novel of our world as it 
might have been, with similar phrases appearing in the marketing text on the 
backs of many editions. 

Indeed, as one reads High Castle and the implications of a post-war world 
subjugated to Nazi ideology unfold, there is plenty to fulfil the publishers’ 
promises of horror: in the world of the novel, the holocaust is an ongoing 
process that, in addition to pursuing Jews across the globe, has seen most of 
the population of Africa exterminated by systematic continental genocide. In 
Europe, the populations of most non-Axis countries are being reduced to the 
effective status of slaves, with the Mediterranean drained to provide farmland. 
Even in the less oppressive, Japanese-occupied areas such as the Western United 
States, where most of the novel takes place, racism and anti-semitism are 
institutionalized, and the most cherished freedoms of (mainstream) modern 
Western democracy, such as the rights to trial and free speech, are non-existent. 
Yet the novel’s real power lies not in its ability to shock with its convincing, 
realistic depiction of an alternative nightmare world. On the contrary, the 
juxtaposition of the familiar world against a Nazi alternative could just as easily 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


reassure readers as disturb them, by underlining the diametric opposition 
between the two. That is, if the novel simply enhanced the reader s sense of the 
ethical ‘wrongness’ of the world it depicts by drawing on its apparent ontological 
and historical inauthenticity, then simultaneously, the world of mainstream 
history would be confirmed as ‘right’, both morally and ontologically. But having 
invoked this binary opposition by its key premise, the more sophisticated 
trajectory followed by High Castle consists in gradually calling it into question. 

Fredric Jameson has praised Dick’s capacity for rendering the present 
historical in an era - ‘consumer society, media society, the “society of the 
spectacle”, late capitalism’ - which is ‘striking in its loss of a sense of the historical 
past and of historical futures’ (2005: 355). Though Jameson has in mind Dickian 
scenarios in which it is a fantasized future that renders the present historical. 
High Castle achieves a similar effect by its depiction of an alternative present 
whose historicity we cannot avoid: purely in recognizing its basic premise, the 
reader is made conscious of the historical (mainstream) timeline from which 
the narrative diverges (the ‘what if?’ is immediately an ‘as not’). Furthermore, 
the most horrifying aspects of the novel’s world are tied to a past moment of 
catastrophe in just the same way that our own present can be said to derive its 
ahistorical imaginary from a moment perceived as one of salvation. One early 
edition was advertised as depicting a ‘nightmare from which it might just be 
possible to awake’: although Dick would likely have appreciated the reference to 
Joyce, a writer he particularly admired (and whose use of interior monologue in 
the early chapters of Ulysses appears to have influenced the style of High Castle), 
this phrase is representative of an ahistorical tendency of mainstream history 
that can be seen in various forms throughout the modern culture industry. The 
indirect suggestion is that the nightmare into which the novel’s characters have 
fallen - and from which the real world was saved with the defeat of Nazism in 
1945 - is history itself; whereas it is in fact the mainstream (ahistorical) history, 
haunted and reassured by this nightmare (a bad dream, but just a bad dream) 
that the novel opens up to critical consideration. Meanwhile, the visual symbols 
of a Nazi-ruled USA which adorn the covers of many editions may unwit- 
tingly hint at an already-emergent association whose very inconceivability their 
publishers intended to invoke. 

In Agamben’s Pauline vocabulary, as explored in the previous chapter. High 
Castle can be said to introduce a division within the division, destabilizing 
the binary of the two timelines set up by its premise. The first step is to reveal 
that the initial division is already operative in the Western world’s perception 
of its own history as ‘saved’ by the defeat of Nazism - a self-perception which 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

already implicitly defines itself in opposition to an alternative ‘damned’ history 
of the kind seemingly given form by the novel. The second step is to establish 
a dichotomy within this distinction, suggesting that we the readers are still 
partially inhabiting the nightmare alternative that the novel initially allows 
us to understand as imaginary, while simultaneously allowing us to see that 
its characters, even within this hell, are neither universally nor hopelessly 
condemned. In this sense the novel effects the Pauline operation of making 
their condition of being saved or damned according to the flesh (according 
to their ontological, material or socio-historical conditions) cease to coincide 
with being saved or damned according to the spirit (according to their ethical 

Thus while High Castle might represent the ultimate vision of a mechanized 
world, all humanity, and indeed the natural environment, being reduced to 
the status of mere resource for the benefit of a self-aggrandizing (yet still 
internecine and self-destructive) elite - nevertheless it remains possible for 
its characters to exhibit moral freedom, resistance to mechanization, and thus 
maintain the potential for the open society. Hence where several commentators 
see the notion that ‘Nazism really triumphed in World War IF (Rieder 1992: 
224) as the novel’s central message, I am primarily interested in what the novel 
does with this notion as already playing a (possibly suppressed or virtual) role 
in the post-war Western psyche, as a counterpart to the more overtly and often 
ritualistically affirmed notion that Nazism, and in some ways mechanization in 
general, were decisively defeated at the end of the Second World War. 

The dynamic fabulation at work here therefore renders both the ‘damned’ 
timeline and the ‘saved’ timeline ‘as not’, rendering visible or re-animating the 
evidence suppressed within each of them that worlds and their histories are 
continually in the process of being made, and as such always open to transfor- 
mation. This involves shaking off what Dick, as we will see below, refers to as ‘the 
tyranny of the concrete’, that is, the false impression that the world is inevitably, 
fixedly the way it is (a deterministic, thus mechanistic outlook). Importantly, 
this process which operates at the level of reading is mirrored in the experience 
of some of the characters: a work of fiction within the novel, Hawthorne 
Abendsen’s alternative reality novel, depicts a world in which the Allies won 
the Second World War, and is responsible, with the help of another text, the I 
Ching, for making certain inhabitants of the world of High Castle aware of the 
possible existence of other timelines such as the mainstream history familiar to 
the reader. By this device, the extra-diegetic world is brought within the novel. 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


just as we come to recognize the supposedly fictional nightmare timeline as 
already a part of our own conception of history. 

The world described in Abendsen’s book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is 
not quite identical with mainstream history, however. For example, rather 
than staying in power throughout the war, Roosevelt stands down in 1940 and 
is replaced by a man named Tugwell who, at the time of Pearl Harbor, is ‘so 
smart that he has all the ships out to sea’ (69). As a result of victory the British 
Empire, rather than collapsing, becomes larger than it was before the war (85). 
Many critics have understandably focused, as Adam Roberts (2002) has noted, 
on the relativist conception of history opened up by this further alternative, 
to the neglect of the elements which constitute the novel’s ‘sophisticated, and 
consciously artistic’ achievements, in particular the small, collectible objects 
which are central to the everyday concerns of many characters as well as to 
key developments in the plot. In fact, as I will argue here, both these dimen- 
sions are essential and mutually dependent. Such objects are not only central 
to the techniques Dick uses to establish the alternative history as tangible 
and believable, but also integral to the means by which the simple opposition 
between two closed fabulations (mainstream history and its nightmare alter- 
native) is destabilized or ‘opened up’ in the course of the novel’s dynamic 

The capacity of such objects to perform these roles can be read as an index of 
the peculiar relationship between immanence and transcendence which seems 
to be concentrated in them. Furthermore, these small, solid objects function 
as both the symbols and the potential way out of an absolute state of mechan- 
ization, represented in their seemingly irreducible objecthood: however wide 
the range of what we perceive as objects, within which we might include, for 
example, planets, images, numbers, memories and systems; and however rigor- 
ously we might maintain the perspective of a process ontology, in which no 
entity is ever wholly isolated from the rest of the world - nevertheless the small, 
solid item we can hold in our hands for most of us is the quintessential object. 
Such objects as they circulate throughout High Castle can be taken to represent 
an absolute state of de-subjectivization, loss of living agency, coupled with the 
process of (re)vitalization of the lifeless. The fact that, in their very objecthood, 
they paradoxically take on a kind of agency, taking over precisely at the points 
in the plot when the human characters seem to have given up on their own free 
will altogether, offers a glimmer of hope for even the most lifeless, the most 
mechanized life. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Mechanization and paralysis 

A condition which besets several of the main characters of High Castle, notably 
Frank Frink, his ex-wife Juliana Frink and the Japanese diplomat Tagomi, is one 
in which they repeatedly find themselves desperately unable to make decisions 

- to perceive, let alone select, an acceptable course of action. The general 
context for this condition is the seeming impossibility of an adequate response 
to the Nazi violence which has apparently surpassed all conceivable boundaries 
of scale and intensity; yet it is frequently a specific, personal act of violence, 
perhaps concentrating the general threat, that triggers the near-paralysed state. 
The absolute mechanization of human and natural resources represented by the 
extermination and subjugation of human life in Africa and Europe is something 
with which these characters, who still possess a limited degree of freedom as 
occupiers and occupied, must live every day, and yet which, when they pay 
direct attention to it - for example, when it is concentrated into a direct and 
personal danger - seems virtually impossible to endure. Both Juliana Frink 
and Tagomi, for example, when threatened with assassination, are forced to kill 
in order to preserve their own lives and the lives of others. Yet in order to do 
so, it seems they must enter a state of absolute depersonalization, in which all 
conscious agency seems to have been abandoned, at least during and immedi- 
ately following their own acts of violence. Furthermore, as we will see, the 
return of reflective consciousness in both cases does not bring with it a recovery 
of agency, but rather a prolonged helplessness in which they feel unable to move 
in any direction. 

Perhaps the most powerful expression of this state in the novel - and the one 
which results most directly from interacting with the core of the Nazi regime 

- comes when Mr Tagomi attends a meeting with other Japanese diplomats 
to discuss candidates for the Nazi leadership, following the death of Hitlers 
first successor Martin Bormann. Tagomi hears personality descriptions of the 
candidates: the ruthless Goering, characterized by ‘self-glorification in ancient 
emperor fashion’; Goebbels, driven by the desire for power for its own sake; the 
pathologically schizophrenic Heydrich, who ‘holds human struggle to be series 
of games’; von Schirach, the mastermind behind the post-war racial extermi- 
nation programmes; and Seyss-Inquart, the man responsible for ‘the decision 
to make holocaust of African continent’ (93-6). Listening to these accounts, 
Tagomi is gradually overcome with nausea and has to leave the meeting (96). 
In addition to being reminded of the horrendous atrocities carried out by these 
figures and listening to accounts of their power-driven, inhuman characters. 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


what seems to overwhelm him is the inescapability, the totalizing reach of 
these palpable, inhuman destructive forces, which infuse every single one of 
the contenders for the next world leader. Tagomi is perceiving the future of his 
world as ‘a sort of Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathologies’, as 
J. G. Ballard once pessimistically described his view of humanity’s twenty-first- 
century future (2005: 20). 

If evil can be considered the signifier of a quality that would make a world 
absolutely unliveable, this situation causes it to coincide with concrete reahty, 
inescapable, absolute and ubiquitous: ‘There is evil! It’s actual, like cement ... 
It’s an ingredient in us. In the world. Poured over us, filtering into our bodies, 
minds, hearts, into the pavement itself’ (97). The global Nazi machine appears 
to have succeeded in rendering almost the whole planet as what Heidegger 
termed ‘standing reserve’ {Bestand) (1993 [1954]: 322); or, to use a different 
vocabulary, it has reduced human and all other forms of life to the status of 
Agamben’s ‘bare life’, a life beyond all political and moral existence, which he 
regards as the ultimate effect of the Nazi concentration camps (1998: 166-80). 
On the one hand, the objectification, or depersonalization of every individual, 
to the extent that they are deprived of agency, acting mechanically or not at all; 
on the other, the perceived irreversibility or finality of this condition, the sense 
that the Nazi programme will complete itself without deviation in a mechanical, 
ineluctable progression. 

Where is anything like salvation to be found under such conditions? 
Whatever form it might take, we would have to anticipate that it could only 
be considered salvation in the most minimal sense: lives once lost cannot be 
literally restored - though life, in certain places and in certain senses, can. 
However, as I have suggested, if there is any non-transcendent possibility of 
salvation, it must constitutively entail the revealing of the impossibihty of a 
saving event as a fiction; moreover, this revealing may itself take place through 
the fictionalizing of a possible escape route (which will subsequently turn out 
to have had or taken purchase in reality): a fabulation is always a counter- 
fabulation. In a sense, the conditions that make salvation necessary are those 
that make it possible (if still extremely unlikely). This is not just the logical 
consequence of a circularity of definitions (whereby escape from danger is 
considered ‘salvation’ only when it is perceived as impossible). Ultimately, there 
must also be a perceived nonhuman element to any conception or experience of 
salvation - the appeal to the transcendent is an appeal to something beyond the 
self, beyond the present self-world system in which the one seeking salvation 
recognizes the limits of his or her possible actions and effects: and it may just be 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

that in the alienating, depersonalizing effects of mechanization, the conditions 
for conceiving of an aspect of oneself as other, as nonhuman, begin to emerge 
(providing there is some living remnant of subjectivity to experience its own 

Thus resistance to, or salvation from, the oppressive forces of mechani- 
zation, at least in the Nazi- dominated world of High Castle, will necessarily be 
limited, and will not take place through any large-scale military assault - there 
is no secret weapon or hidden elite/messianic force ready to launch a surprise 
attack and bring down the evil regime against all odds, in the manner of much 
mainstream science fiction, especially film, from Star Wars to The Matrix. 
Rather, whatever hope there is for salvation comes in the form of small, solid, 
objects that seem to epitomize triviality in contrast to the large historical and 
political forces transforming human life; yet it is precisely in this triviality 
that their transformative potential lies. As Rossi writes, in Dick, ‘small events 
are actually cosmic; God is in the gutter; trash (be it science fiction, or any 
other mass product of cultural industry, or actual rubbish) is actually the most 
precious thing in the world’ (2011: 90). Or, to cite Dick himself: ‘Size is inversely 
proportional to hierarchical reality. We assume cosmic = most important = 
largest. (Cosmos = cosmic.) Wrong. Look for the seed’ (E: 508). 

Worldly remains 

One category of these small, solid objects consists of antique Americana and 
ephemera. The collection and trading of these mementos of a culture now 
dwindling under colonialist rule are activities important to the professional 
and social lives of several key characters, forming the focus for their everyday 
concerns and anxieties. At the outset of the novel, Robert Childan, an American 
antiques dealer, is depressed to find on opening up his shop one morning that 
the Civil War recruiting poster he had ordered for Mr Tagomi, an important 
client, has not yet arrived. Having explained the situation to Tagomi, Childan 
experiences existential dread. 

‘A substitute, then. Your recommendation, Mr ChildanV Tagomi deliberately 
mispronounced the name; insult within the code that made Childan’s ears burn. 
Place pulled, the dreadful mortification of their situation. Robert Childan’s 
aspirations and fears and torments rose up and exposed themselves, swamping 
him, stopping his tongue. He stammered, his hand sticky on the phone. The air 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


of his store smelled of the marigolds; the music played on, but he felt as if he 
were falling into some distant sea. 

‘Well he managed to mutter. ‘Butter churn. Ice cream maker circa 1900.’ 

His mind refused to think. Just when you forget about it; just when you fool 
yourself He was thirty-eight years old, and he could remember the pre-war 
days, the other times. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the World’s Fair; the former 
better world. (10) 

Tagomi’s mispronounciation of Childan’s name - the simple shifting of emphasis 
from one syllable to another - encodes a whole set of power relations between 
occupier and occupied, cutting through the deceptively sweet normality of 
the marigold-scented air of Childan’s shop to remind him of the true ‘dreadful 
mortiftcation’ of his world. There is a similarly slight and equally suggestive 
difference between the two men’s perspectives on the objects being traded - 
the Civil War poster, the butter churn, the Mickey Mouse watch Tagomi will 
eventually select as a substitute. In their apparently singular physicality, any 
of these objects can function as a synecdoche for either of two vastly different 
worlds (which later in the novel will be transposed on to the metaphysical 
relationships between alternative timelines). Even with his passionate collector’s 
interest, for Tagomi the items in Childan’s shop will never be much more than 
curiosities, exotic artefacts belonging to a dead culture, having no intrinsic 
significance in terms of the context of their original production and use (hence 
a Mickey Mouse watch is interchangeable with a Civil War recruitment poster). 
For Childan, regardless of the pride he takes in his business - ‘his displays [...] 
really were the best of their kind on the Coast’ (10) - these objects remain 
integral to his own past, nostalgically associated with Roosevelt and the World’s 
Fair, remnants and reminders of a ‘former, better world’. 

Throughout the novel, objects such as these play the joint role of allowing 
the reader to identify with elements of the diegetic world, in particular the 
quotidian concerns of the main characters, without losing the sense of the 
extreme difference between the mainstream and alternative realities. They 
suture the novel’s modernist-realist style to the irreality of its counter-factual 
setting. This capacity derives partially from their existence in both timelines 
(thus on both sides of the diegetic boundary), having been produced before the 
supposed point of divergence - apparently the 1934 assassination attempt on 
Roosevelt, successful in the world of High Castle but a failure in mainstream 
history. Antiques and ephemera, in any history, have already acquired new 
social, artistic and/or cultural significance. In this case, they have transcended 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

two historical breaks - one effected by war and conquest, the other by the 
meta-ontological structure of which we as readers (along with some readers of 
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy) have a privileged awareness. In other words, the 
division is divided: although we may think of Dick’s readers as real, and his 
characters as fake, such a distinction only applies in terms of what for us (or 
those readers) is raw physicality, that which Saint Paul identifies as flesh (sarx). 
According to the spirit (pneuma), the reality or fakeness of the histories and 
narratives of people depend on criteria other than their fleshly existence. 

One of the most prominent and determining small objects in terms of the 
novel’s plot is the Colt .44 pistol. One or several identical iterations of this 
antique firearm play(s) key roles throughout the novel. There are still enough 
Colt .44s in existence to allow Robert Childan to trade them, yet few enough to 
prevent the market being swamped. What he does not know is that the pieces 
he sells are actually fakes. Frank Frink, one of the few remaining Jews to have 
escaped Nazi detection, thus himself existing under a fake identity, works for a 
company that manufactures a wide range of ‘antiques’, the Colt .44 being one of 
his specialities. When he and a colleague wish to leave the company in order to 
set up their own business making authentic, contemporary jewellery, they allow 
Childan to discover that a Colt he has purchased is a fake, in order to blackmail 
their boss into putting up the money for their new venture. The plan succeeds, 
allowing Frink to begin creating what we are led to understand is some of the 
first genuine, original American art produced since the war, and which it is 
suggested may be a sign of and contributor to the gradual re-emergence of a 
living cultural identity. 

It is also a Colt .44 - probably not the same one, but quite possibly also 
originating in Frink’s workshop - that is pivotal in saving the lives of Tagomi 
and others at a critical moment, and enabling them to play a key role in averting 
another genocide. The Nazis have developed a secret plan to make ‘an enormous 
nuclear attack’ (182) on Japan, their supposed ally, and take possession of 
its territories. As a diplomat, Tagomi has been able to orchestrate a meeting 
between a Nazi counter-intelligence officer and a retired Japanese general, both 
posing as businessmen, with the purpose of passing on the details of the plot 
to the Japanese. During the meeting, Nazi thugs break into the embassy in 
an attempt to kill the three men and prevent the information from changing 
hands. Mr Tagomi, forced into an act of violence completely against his peaceful 
nature, uses his ‘perfectly preserved U.S. 1860 Civil War Colt .44’ - ‘mature use 
heretofore delayed’ (186) to kill the assassins. Not only does the gun, which 
Tagomi has never intended to use as a weapon, save the lives of the three men. 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


but it is likely responsible for preventing an act of genocide and possibly a new 
global war. As if to underline the fact that small, antique artefacts are shaping 
world history, the evidence itself is transmitted in a silver cigarette case. 

We have already been provided with the objects likely biography, its journey 
from Frink’s workshop to Childan’s shop to Tagomi’s office; in the scene itself, 
its pivotal role is in direct contrast to the automatism displayed by its human 
counterpart. Tagomi is surprisingly composed and unemotional for one who 
is, in addition to being unaccustomed to such situations, of an extremely 
non-violent temperament. He is described carefully removing the revolver 
from its teakwood box, and carrying out the lengthy process of loading it with 
powder, ball and cap ammunition. There is almost a sense that he has allowed 
the pistol to take over his actions, as he performs the mechanical routines of 
loading and shooting that he has carried out countless times in ‘vainglorious 
swift-draw practising and firing’ (186). Only after the event will ‘the most 
convincingly virtuous person in Dick’s novels’ (Palmer 2003: 109) show any 
uncertainty about having had to kill other humans - though when this time 
comes, his sense of guilt is immense. 

The status of the antique is such that it is markedly mundane, yet at the same 
time lifted out of its ordinary world, in effect transcending itself as functional 
object by acquiring new roles; in this case, an object that has become culturally 
equivalent to a Mickey Mouse watch is transformed into a weapon that not only 
saves lives, but under highly improbable circumstances achieves the unlikely 
task of avoiding a genocidal nuclear attack - effectively carrying out an ‘act’ of 
salvation, its agency underlined by the mechanical movements of its human 

But if the gun is crucial in enacting salvation within the novel’s diegesis, 
it (along with several similar handheld objects) also has a central role across 
this boundary - first in rendering the nightmare world believable (and thus its 
characters sympathetic), and second in establishing the possibility of salvation 
even under such conditions. The latter effect is in large part due to their apparent 
insignificance - their smallness in both physical and social terms. If people have 
the time and emotional capacity to be concerned about such trivialities, this 
signifies that the nightmare they inhabit cannot be total: even under such condi- 
tions, there is room for the everyday, for trivial, useless objects and pursuits. 
However, in High Castle, matters of literary technique cannot be easily restricted 
to the extra- diegetic sphere: the notion of a bridge between reader and character 
is already a theme of the novel - not in that its characters are also concerned 
with questions of literary aesthetics, as in some metafictional writing, but in 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

that they seek a literal, ontological bridge between their world and ours. This 
is the purpose and significance of Abendsen’s Grasshopper for the characters of 
High Castle. An empathetic reader of High Castle is not only empathizing with 
a person in dire circumstances, but with the experience of finding oneself to 
be a character trapped in an artificial world - an ontological dilemma which 
Dick’s novels have come to epitomize. The centrality of this theme in Dick’s 
writing and thought is another basis on which we might suggest that his novels 
are accidentally or organically, rather than self-consciously, metafictional: his 
key concerns could not avoid disrupting the boundary between the diegesis, 
the world in which the action takes place, and the extra-diegetic dimension in 
which form, technique, and the social context of reader and writer determine 
the work. 

Openings between worlds 

In light of the above, it should not be wholly surprising to find that one small, 
solid object transforms itself from a metaphorical to a literal bridge between 
worlds at another key moment in the story, allowing Tagomi briefly to cross 
over into what seems to be the world of mainstream history. In a state of shock 
following the assassination attempt and the violence he was forced to perpetrate, 
Tagomi wanders the city seemingly at random.' Eventually he finds himself 
at Childan’s shop, where he intends to get rid of the Colt .44; now that it has 
reverted from antique to weapon, he views it with disgust. Childan will not 
take the gun (which he now suspects of being fake), but instead sells Tagomi 
a small silver pin in the shape of a triangle, one of the new pieces of jewellery 
that Frank Frink has recently made. Whether it is sales patter or a genuine 
belief, Childan suggests that the piece possesses some extraordinary redemptive 
power. Tagomi is sceptical but desperate. Finding a quiet spot in a park, he uses 
an array of strategies to get the triangle to yield its supposed power to him - 
pleading, threatening, meditating, approaching the object systematically with 
each of his five senses; finally, just as he feels enlightenment approaching, he 
is interrupted by a cop, and abandons the exercise, along with the triangle, in 
disgust (222). Only gradually, as he attempts to find his way back through the 
city, does he realize that the silver triangle has done something to him - or his 
world - after all. 

Somehow, he has crossed over into another reality, one which seems, due to 
the attitudes of the people there, and the presence of certain landmarks such 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


as the Embarcadero Freeway, to be the real’, mainstream world of 1960s San 
Francisco. Tagomi is deeply disoriented to find that the streets are no longer 
filled with pedecabs - a rickshaw-like import of the occupying culture - and 
that other familiar objects such as the cable cars he earlier described as ‘oddly 
yet extant’ (213) have now disappeared. Such differences, along with the 
heavily increased motor traffic and pollution in the air, and, most chillingly 
as far as he is concerned, the refusal of the white people in a diner to give up 
their seats for him, cause him to imagine he has passed into the spirit-world of 
the dead: 

The silver triangle disoriented me. I broke from my moorings and hence stand 
on nothing. So much for my endeavour. Lesson to me for ever. One seeks 
to contravene one’s perceptions - why? So that one can wander utterly lost, 
without signposts or guide? (224) 

Dick has Tagomi express here the sense of despair that, at various times, accom- 
panied his own attempts to move beyond the appearance of ordinary reality - to 
‘contravene his perceptions’. The tone anticipates in particular some of his lowest 
moments during the writing of the Exegesis, more than a decade later. There, 
and to a degree throughout his life, he had found himself moving beyond the 
perception of obvious reality in search of a deeper, underlying truth. Frequently 
ecstatic and full of wonder in his attempts to develop this understanding, the 
Exegesis is also punctuated with moments of extreme self-doubt, in which Dick 
expresses the loneliness and despair of having penetrated the artificiality of the 
world, without being granted full access to the transcendental reality he believes 
to lie beneath it (see, for example, E: 285). 

Just as pain and salvation seem to be inseparable in Dick’s 2-3-74 experi- 
ences, Tagomi’s immediate appraisal of his crossing between worlds as a hellish 
torture, a punishment for his recent acts of violence, seems to be integral to its 
simultaneously containing the potential for redemption. On recovering the silver 
pin and using it again as a bridge to return to his own familiar universe, Tagomi 
finds his state of paralysis has passed, and feels the urge to re-engage with the 
routine of his quotidian existence: ‘Duty calls. Customary day once again’ (226). 
However, once back at the embassy, he refuses to follow customary procedure, 
and, in the epitome of Dickian ‘balking’, instead of signing paperwork which 
would authorize the handing over of a Jewish citizen to the Nazi government, 
he uses his authority to have him released - not knowing that this man - Frank 
Frink - is the creator of both the Colt .44 that saved his life and the silver 
triangle responsible for his seemingly revelatory, albeit painful experience. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

The silver pin, in bridging immanence and transcendence, or rather, in 
rendering transcendent that which presented itself as not only immanent 
but intransigent, enables acts of salvation in circumstances where death and 
destruction seemed unavoidable. As emphasized in the scene depicting the 
contenders for the Nazi leadership, Tagomi and many others experience the 
world of High Castle as unbearable, an experience that is intensified by the 
sense of its seemingly unchangeable nature. Like the Roman Empire or the 
Black Iron Prison, its very power depends on collective global acceptance of 
the fact that it will not yield to either internal or external pressure to change. 
Opening up the possibility, the conceivability, of an alternative world - even 
if the immediate experience of it is, as in Tagomi’s case, equally unbearable 
- challenges the source of Roman or Nazi or any mechanizing power, i.e. the 
belief which maintains it. In enabling this challenge, the silver triangle plays the 
role Agamben ascribes to the horkos: it has acted as guarantor of the promise 
made by Childan that it would open a ‘new view in your heart’ (217), doing so 
only on the basis of Tagomi’s willingness to place faith in this promise. Tagomi’s 
excursion into a nightmare alternative universe, like that of the reader of High 
Castle, offers an opportunity to grapple with the notion that while any world 
may be unbearable, no world is beyond transformation. 

The jewellery created by Frank Frink does not share with antiques the 
property of transcending the gap, sometimes made by history, sometimes by 
social hierarchy, between function and artefact, between a culture of use and a 
culture of collection. Indeed, it is in a sense extracted from cultural context in 
general, not only in that it has no pre-existing model, but in that it is created 
by an individual whose cultural identity, both as a Jew and as a former citizen 
of the United States, has been nullified by the dominant Nazi regime. Thus 
the existence of both the silver triangle and its creator despite their official 
non-existence, already constitutes a challenge to the dominant reality: they 
are remnants in the sense of Agamben’s Paul - upsetting the correspondence 
between world and worldview (Weltanschauung). The fiction which Nazism 
increasingly seeks to make into a reality, in part by treating it as largely already 
accomplished, is that of its own totality: having divided the world into Nazis 
and non-Nazis, it has sought to eradicate members of the latter category until its 
own particularism achieves a quasi-universal status. This is a kind of demonic 
inversion of open morality: everyone will be equal when everyone regarded as 
inferior has been removed. Such a world would not contain Frank Frink or his 
creations; their presence indicates the continued non-existence of such a world. 

Thus the silver triangle seems to have a kind of moral power by virtue 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


of existing outside the dominant conception of history or reality (the one 
which, within the world of the novel, is treated as its own ‘mainstream’). 
Metaphorically, it is genetic proof of the limits of Nazism and of the fakeness of 
a particular world. In a metaphysical twist, Dick inserts this ahistorical quality 
directly into the object, almost as though it were a tangible magical ingredient 
that had the power to transport Tagomi into another world. A young Japanese 
collector describes this quality as wu: 

I recall a shrine in Hiroshima where a shinbone of some medieval saint could 
be examined. However, this is an artifact and that was a relic. This is alive in the 
now, whereas that merely remained [ . . . ] 

To have no historicity, and also no artistic, aesthetic worth, and yet to partake 
of some ethereal value - that is a marvel [...] One experiences awareness of 
wu in such trash as an old stick, or a rusty beer can by the side of the road. 
However, in those cases, the wu is in the viewer. It is a religious experience. 
Here, an artificer has put wu into the object, rather than merely witnessed the 
wu inherent in it. (171) 

A piece of Edfrank jewellery, then, has more in common with Childan’s antiques 
than may at first be apparent. While the antiques highlight the impermanence 
of particular cultural worlds by existing in more than one (traversing not only 
pre- and post-war cultures, but mainstream and alternative timelines), the 
silver triangle remains outside of all worlds, thus stubbornly revealing their 
insubstantiality. Though the antiques may be said to retain the material traces 
of their prior functions, the silver triangle is a material trace, its bare physical 
existence likewise constituting slight but crucial evidence of the possibility of 
other worlds, of the non-totality of any given (e.g. Nazi) world. 

Thus at a range of levels, these objects form a pivot of shared reality around 
which whole worlds are juxtaposed against and potentially transformed into or 
exchanged for one another. They play precisely the role of Agamben’s Pauline 
messianic tensors, setting a world (or aspects of it) against itself, making 
it conceivable ‘as not’ itself It is worth noting that wu, like most Chinese 
characters, can perform many roles, and among other senses is found in Taoist 
thought in the principle of wu wei, sometimes translated as ‘nonaction’ (Watts 
1975: 74-98). Though it may be advisable not to make too much of what is 
after all Dick’s own selective use of elements of certain Eastern traditions, wu 
as performing a negating operation rather than designating nothingness or 
emptiness per se certainly resonates with the Pauline hos me, as well as with acts 
of balking such as Tagomi’s refusal to sign the papers authorizing Prank Prink’s 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

execution. It is in setting a term or aspect of reality against itself, as though it 
were not so, that the silver pin, as well as the novels High Castle and Grasshopper, 
destabilize the supposed solidity and unchangeability of the world(s) in and 
beyond which they exist. This is one of the ways the novel opens up a minimal 
possibility of salvation through fabulation, for both its characters and its readers 
- whose very identification and even interchangeability contributes to and is 
reinforced by the breaking down of all straightforward boundaries between the 
fictional and the real. 

The tyranny of the concrete 

In opening up the closed fabulation of post-war Western history, one of High 
Castle’s strongest political-ethical effects, as many critics have noted, is to cause 
the reader to reflect on the extent to which the Nazi universe it presents is not 
simply a terrifying vision of ‘our world as it might have been’, but is actually 
integral to our world in a far more direct sense. Given the levels of violence 
and the wars that have pervaded global affairs since 1945, the number of deaths 
due to poverty and disease, and the very destruction of life that took place 
during the war itself, it is difficult to maintain any uncomplicated view of the 
Allied victory as a moment of global salvation - at least in any enduring sense. 
The defeat of Nazism brought neither redemption for those who had perpe- 
trated and suffered violence, nor any effective restraint on subsequent violence 
occurring on a comparative scale. ^ 

Yet the notion of the defeat of Nazism as a moment of salvation has been 
so well established in post-war Western culture that it is not unreasonable to 
suggest that it really does represent a bifurcation in history, in the cultural 
imagination if nowhere else (and where else is history?), leading to the creation 
of (at least) two post-war worlds. To what extent has the confidence of victory, 
the institutionalization of the idea that global catastrophe was averted, made 
it easier to allow further war, genocide and neglect of suffering to take place? 
Whether the novel’s central message is that Nazism really did in some sense 
triumph at the end of the Second World War, or whether it simply constitutes 
a challenge to the self-certainty of mainstream history, has been debated by 
critics. The ending can be used to support either view. Juliana Frink, having 
made a journey to visit Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of the alternative 
history novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, questions him about his book. He 
confirms her suspicion that the I Ching played a major role in the composition 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


of the novel, just as Dick averred of High Castle itself (DePrez 1976). Juliana 
then consults the I Ching, in the presence of Abendsen and his wife, asking 
why it ‘wrote’ Grasshopper - what message it intended to convey to them. The 
answer comes in the form of the hexagram Chung Fu, meaning ‘Inner Truth’, 
which they interpret as meaning that Abendsen’s book is ‘true’ in its depiction 
of a world in which Germany and Japan lost the Second World War. Unlike 
Absendsen, Juliana is ‘pleased and excited’ to have learned this truth, even 
though it seemingly does nothing materially to change her situation. Where 
previously she has found choosing courses of action very difficult, a source of 
great anxiety, and relied like other characters on the I Ching for guidance, now 
when she is asked about her future plans she seems to have come to embrace her 
uncertainty: “‘I don’t know.” The problem did not bother her’ (248). 

As John Rieder has noted, many readers and critics have been dissatisfied 
with the ambiguity of the novel’s ending (1992: 223). Even Dick declared the I 
Ching a ‘malicious spirit’ for not providing a clear resolution (DePrez 1976: 8). 
Those who praise the ending often see in it a confirmation of the triumph 
of Nazism even within mainstream history (Rieder 1992: 224) - the I Ching 
both pointing to this condition, and suggesting that it is not absolute. Rieder’s 
own reading refuses any conclusive interpretation, seeing in the ending a 
foregrounding of the radical instability of meaning, arguing that ‘the novel 
promises only to create among its readers a form of community like that of the 
random coherence among the “moments” of hermeneutic activity codified in 
the 1 Ching: an apolitical collectivity, without a centre or a goal’ (1992: 231). 
I would agree that there is no impetus on the reader to decide whether the 
novel’s conclusion has either a clear meaning or constitutes a failure to find 
such a meaning. However, for me this uncertainty is tied to the impossibility 
of any absolute clarification of the strange relations between fiction and reality, 
immanence and transcendence, which run throughout the novel. Moreover, 
there is a de-centred collectivity discernible in the novel, yet it is one that must 
at least, in its coherence with an immanent soteriology in which ontology and 
ethics cannot easily be separated, be considered pre- or proto-political. Rieder’s 
description would be viable only if we were to take ‘apolitical’ to mean ‘against 
particularism’, rejecting worldly divisions - the very stance that renders Paul a 
political theologian for Agamben, Badiou and others. 

In a 1974 essay, Dick cited Santayana’s definition of waking life as ‘dreaming 
under the control of the object’ (1995b: 75), arguing that the role of the science 
fiction writer is to free us from ‘that immediate object [...] to speculate us out 
of its total grip’. If successful, he continues, the writer will have 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

cut us loose enough to put us in a third space, neither the concrete nor the 
abstract, but something unique, something connected to both [...] the daily 
tyranny of our immediate world, which we generally succumb to, becoming 
passive in the hands of and accepting as immutable, this is broken, this tyranny 
of concrete reality. (1995b: 75-6) 

This cutting-loose, the breaking of the tyranny of concrete reality, is precisely 
what occurs for Tagomi when he crosses over into another universe, as it has 
for the reader of High Castle in experiencing something similar. In both cases, 
the alternative world is initially perceived as a kind of hell, yet turns out to offer 
something potentially redemptive or salvational, even if minimally so. Though 
Tagomi’s saving of a single life may stUl seem negligible against the backdrop of 
the destruction of millions, it is the saving of a life nonetheless, and signifies the 
continued possibility of resistance, the non-omnipotence of the Nazi machine. 
Juliana Frink, similarly appears to experience a new form of freedom at the 
end of the novel, finally embracing her lack of grounding in reality as the 
counterpart to the ending of the tyranny of the concrete. Both she and Tagomi, 
following their journeys, no longer feel completely powerless in the face of 
the Nazi machine. Where the future seemed unchangeable, predetermined in 
advance as if following a mechanistic programme, it now contains an element of 
indeterminacy once again. Where the Black Iron Prison seemed impenetrable, it 
now reveals small but unmistakable weaknesses. The last we know of Tagomi is 
that he is taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack; the question of whether 
he will survive or not is uncertain, reflecting his general state, and that of his 
world - critical, in the sense of being dire, but also in the sense of having an 
indeterminate future: being at the point of judgement, but not yet beyond it. 

For dynamic fabulation to achieve its effects, the future must be rendered 
open, as it has been for Juliana at the novel’s end. The sole effect of the ‘truth’ 
that has been revealed to her has been to alter her own relation to the appar- 
ently concrete: its tyranny has been destabilized by the recognition that even the 
most seemingly fixed, immutable aspects of reality are contingent, and therefore 
open to reconstruction. The indeterminacy of the future has been freed from 
its subsumption within Nazi psychopathology becoming genuinely open once 
again. A key Dickian (though also Pauline) lesson is that the tyranny of any 
political or ideological regime is co-extensive with the tyranny of concrete 
reality and that to a certain extent they are mutually enhancing. In the Exegesis, 
Dick suggests that his 2-3-74 visions came about through his withdrawing of 
his assent from reality (E: 319). When we treat what is around us as real we are 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


not only perceiving, but assenting - we are, albeit in a largely unconscious or 
intuitive mode, confirming our belief in the reality of what we perceive. 

This assent may be the fabulative element already at work in perception, the 
inventive aspect of even the most apparently simple reasoning or observation, 
implicit in Bergson’s account of fabulation, and subsequently explored in depth 
in a variety of intellectual contexts, such as the constructionism of Nelson 
Goodman (1978), or Maturana and Varela’s autopoietic account of cognition 
(1980; 1987). We can speculate that any organism with any form of cognition 
in a sense constructs the world that it perceives or lives, through those very 
processes of perception and habitation; that is, with Maturana and Varela, in 
a quite Heideggerian tone, we can say that ‘every act of knowing brings forth 
a world’ (1987: 26; original italics). Conversely, any interruption of an act 
of knowing can interrupt this bringing-forth, not only making other worlds 
conceivable, but drawing attention to this actively productive or fabulative 
element in knowledge. The closed fabulation that the world is ‘out there’, 
independent of any of us, is opened up, such that our capacity to bring forth 
other worlds - to fabulate openly, endlessly - comes into focus. The tyranny of 
concrete reality, along with the tyranny of any particular ‘world’, including those 
produced by the ‘knowledge’ that Nazism was defeated or victorious in 1945, is 

Objects of salvation 

What unites several of the main characters of High Castle is that they save one 
another without knowing or directly intending it. Frank Frink’s manufacture of 
the Colt .44 and the silver pin save Tagomi, who in turn saves Frink, although 
they have no knowledge of one another’s existence. Abendsen’s novel, perhaps 
unintentionally, seems to have had some kind of salvation-like effect for 
Juliana, and presumably for his other readers, while Juliana in turn saves him 
by destroying his would-be assassin. In this sense. High Castle points towards 
an understanding of the necessarily impersonal dimension in any viable, that is, 
immanent, means of bringing about salvation. It also suggests that immanent 
salvation must in some sense consist of self-salvation: Frink (unknowingly) 
saves himself by (unknowingly) saving Tagomi; Abendsen does the same 
through Juliana. Though they are unaware of the consequences of their actions, 
all of these characters are in some way balking against the world they are 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

part of, through an act of negation, a refusal to recognize it as all-powerful or 
themselves as absolutely helpless. 

The small, solid objects which play a variety of active roles in High Castle thus 
represent both the ‘tyranny of the concrete’, and the possibility of its escape. We 
have seen how several characters experience something like a state of paralysis 
at critical moments, when they are seemingly unable to maintain agency faced 
with a lack of viable (e.g. ethically acceptable, or practically effective) courses 
of action. During these periods, their inability to act is revealed by the extent 
to which they seemingly give over control to the impersonal elements of the 
world around them, such as the Colt. 44, the small, silver triangle, and the 
I Ching. Having used his antique pistol to kill, Tagomi comes to hate it, but 
finds himself inexplicably tied to it, summing up their mutual bonding (and 
equality of agency) with the phrase, ‘It in my grip, I in its’ (215). Yet the same 
object has been crucial in saving him and others from destruction, and even in 
his attachment to it, leads him to the small, silver triangle which will allow him 
(if only momentarily) to escape the grip of concrete reality altogether. 

Hence, on the one hand, this abandonment of will and subjecthood to the 
object is an index of the extent to which mechanizing forces have deprived the 
human subjects of High Castle of their individual agency at the levels of social 
and ontological existence. Being directed by seemingly purposeless objects, 
antique weapons, trinkets and random lines from a book, represents, with an 
ironic flourish, an absolute mechanization of the human: its subordination 
to its own mechanistic creations - though without the sublime qualities of 
a Frankensteinian narrative or the apocalyptic tone found in much modern 
(mainstream) science fiction film and television. On the contrary, here, it is 
those creations that are seemingly of least importance that take charge (though 
this does suggest a certain resonance with the marginalized status of rebellious 
nonhumans in other narratives, such as the machines of the Terminator films, 
the cylons of Battlestar Galactica, or indeed the original robot workers of Karel 
Capek’s 1920 play R.U.R. - a topic discussed in the following chapter). 

Yet on the other hand, such objects also seem to constitute the source of 
whatever salvation the characters experience. Paradoxically, it is in giving in 
to their own objectification, and allowing impersonal signs and objects to 
determine their course, that the characters of High Castle recover some small 
degree of freedom. Thus the novel suggests that the route to (even a minimal 
chance of) salvation must pass through the form of oppression which makes 
it necessary - echoing Bergson’s statement that humanity must make use of 
mechanism to get away from mechanism. This is why nonhuman objects 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


play a crucial role in the seemingly contradictory process whereby one must 
experience both alienation from, and continuity with reality, in order to find 
a viable path. When Frank or Juliana Frink or Tagomi (or indeed anyone, 
anywhere) feels unable to act, and consults the I Ching (by manipulating other 
small, solid objects such as coins or yarrow stalks), or asks a small piece of 
metal to transport them to another world, they are not abandoning agency 
altogether but attempting to defer, or confer it, on to the object(s). To the extent 
that both constitute impulses to fabulate, there is little difference between what 
the characters experience at these moments and any other attempt to reach out 
to a transcendent power, to anything beyond oneself, for salvation. By an act 
of fabulation, the individual in need of salvation behaves as though an exterior 
force or intelligence were present, influencing events. The very situation of 
desperation that necessitates salvation involves the perception that all visible 
or known courses of action are insufficient: every capacity or quality at ones’ 
disposal has been exhausted, and salvation, if it comes at all, must come from 
something beyond oneself Yet the fact that supernatural help is not available, or 
unlikely in the extreme, means that something else must take place if it is to be 
achieved: fabulation enables the invention of or belief in saving forces, involving 
the attribution of powers to aspects of the world perceived to be beyond the 
self Thus even though being deprived of agency, mechanized, is what leaves the 
human in dire need of salvation, nevertheless the giving up of human agency - 
in what may simultaneously be the human’s most creative act - can also be seen 
as the essence of fabulation, the site of its soteriological potential. 

If the object is able to perform the role of saviour - ambiguously, never 
guaranteeing or making salvation absolute - this may point to the essential role 
of a nonhuman or impersonal element in any logic of salvation. In more conven- 
tional (i.e. mystical or religious) discourses of salvation, this nonhuman element 
tends to take the forms of gods and spirits, or other supernatural powers. In 
science fiction it often comes in the form of a new technology, or an alien 
species, which is able to achieve the apparently impossible. Yet it is not as gods 
or artificial intelligences that such figures bring about salvation, but as repre- 
sentatives of the entry into the human world of nonhuman, yet non -mechanistic 
elements, which simultaneously reveals the human as always -already in part 
nonhuman, technological, objectified. We will see this in the following chapter 
as we look at examples of these more conventionally science-fictional forms 
of the nonhuman (androids, gods, aliens) rendered unconventional in typical 
Dickian manner. Then, when we come to our final sustained reading of a Dick 
work, in the chapter on VALIS, we will be in a position to consider the way 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

all of these different strategies which dynamic fabulation offers for rendering 
dominant aspects of the world, the human, the self, ‘as not’, can be orchestrated 

Conclusion: Reality fields 

The object may stand in certain contexts, including that of the characters of 
High Castle, for our uncritical belief in the reality and fixity of the tangible. Yet 
the novel also suggests how the object may make possible the transformation 
of this view, allowing a dynamic, changeable world to come increasingly into 
being, simply through an enhanced critical perception of the ineradicably 
insubstantial dimension of any world - which persists down to its seemingly 
most solid, unchanging components, such as a lump of metal. 

It may well be that we ought to replace the everyday usage of the opposition 
reality/fiction with the distinction static/dynamic. That which we perceive in 
our environment as unchanging, we generally come to regard as reality; whereas 
that which is constantly changing is much more difficult to pin down and thus 
count as ‘real’. Dick once offered a definition of reality - which he returned 
to many times subsequently - as that which, when you stop believing in it, 
does not go away (1995d [1978]: 261). It was this definition that he modified 
in the above citation from the Exegesis where he suggested that one does not 
just believe in the real, but assents to it. In other entries from around the same 
time. May 1978, he discusses the notion of reality fields, in a line of thinking 
apparently arising from his reflections on a sentence which had come to him 
from what he referred to as the ‘AI voice’. This voice, which he reported hearing 
especially shortly before falling asleep, seems to have functioned (like many 
of the forms of Valis-style ‘communication’) as a kind of filter enabling him to 
feed his own semi-conscious thoughts back to himself, as though coming from 
elsewhere. The phrase was: ‘Perturbations in the reality field’ (E: 333). 

In considering this phrase, Dick moves away from a more conventional 
ontological view in which something is either real or not (where it either is or 
is not part of what he refers to as the ‘all-in-all’), towards a view that what we 
experience as ‘reality’ may actually be considered one of a plurality of possible 
fields, changeable, able to become more or less intensely real, and, crucially, 
capable of being altered by something other than itself: ‘When we talk about 
reality this is what we’re talking about: a field - and now the significance of 
“perturbations” can be appreciated: something more, in the field or (more likely 

Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 


beyond) the field, disturbing it’ (E: 335). This notion functions well as an under- 
standing of what takes place in High Castle and other novels in which Dick 
attempts to challenge the tyranny of concrete reality. It also suggests a way of 
thinking about immanence and transcendence in relation to this challenge that 
moves beyond simplifying oppositions between materialism and mysticism. 
Something that is not a part of a given reality field will appear as transcendent 
from within that field, and may therefore have seemingly transcendent effects 
in introducing perturbations within it, perhaps collapsing it altogether. Yet it 
is immanent to its own reality field, and others it may construct. In this sense, 
Valis in relation to Dick’s attempts to break down his own reality fields, or 
Grasshopper, the I Ching and the small solid objects of High Castle in relation 
to the Nazi- dominated reality field of the novel’s characters, can be said to 
occupy (or consist in) what Deleuze and Guattari call the ‘plane of immanence’ 
or ‘plane of consistency’. Replacing the notion of a transcendent plane which 
would underpin life, art, writing, as its hidden, organizing principle, the plane 
of immanence ‘has no other regions than the tribes populating and moving 
around on it’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 36-37). Considering these ‘tribes’ as 
reality fields, we may see how the plane of immanence, immanent only to itself 
(Deleuze 2001: 27), may appear as transcendent within a given such field, yet 
has no existence other than through them; it partakes only of wu, nothingness. 
Elsewhere in the Exegesis, Dick’s discussion of ‘a sort of field theory about the 
human being’ in which Valis or Zebra would constitute ‘a supra-ego existence 
(phylogenic being-reality) [...] of which each human is merely an epiphe- 
nomenon’ (E: 456) resonates with Simondon’s notion of the ‘preindividual field’ 
of which the individual subject is an effect - also a key influence on Deleuze. 

Dick’s dynamic fabulation attempts to resist the most fixed, immovable 
facets of reality - of the world which stubbornly continues to exist when you 
turn away from it - in this case the Nazi state, or the Black Iron Prison - by 
positing something more ‘real’, more stubborn, in an act of balking that refuses 
to accept the mechanical necessity of what it opposes. The fabulation and 
perception of other reality fields, which are set against any given such field, 
constitutes the latter’s absolute disruption and opens it to an infinite potential 
for transformation. 


How We Became Post- Android 

‘Astral determinism’ and ‘Fate’ designate the inexorable outcome of a closed 

This is why I become not-I. 

(Dick, E: 487) 

What is it in the end that goes in the same direction as this T think’ that 
insures the humanity and animal rationality that I am? Well, paradoxically 
it is nothing other than a mechanism, a machine, but this time a providential 

(Derrida 2008: 97) 

In the previous chapter we began to see, through The Man in the High Castle, 
how both a notion of self-salvation, and a notion of self as nonhuman, may 
be jointly integral to an immanent soteriology. Here I want to pursue this 
further, through two particular categories of the nonhuman - the alien and 
the android, each of which can be said to have been integral to the human self- 
conception for a long time prior to the appearance of modern science fiction. 
These two representatives of radical otherness and uncanny similitude are 
figures through which certain elements of a dominant human self-conception 
establish and reinforce themselves. They are closed fabulations participating in 
the constitution of the humans (humanist) reality field, allowing it to differen- 
tiate itself from superior and inferior beings, corresponding to gods on the one 
hand, and animals on the other - though gods and animals that are always- 
already technologized, rendered instruments or resources for the pursuit of 
human goals. Through looking in some detail at two novels dealing with these 
themes. Galactic Pot-Healer (2005a [1969]) and Do Androids Dream of Electric 
Sheep? (1993a [1968]) we may appreciate the ways Dick’s dynamic fabulation 
operates upon such closed fabulations, as part of his ongoing search for an 
adequate form and logic of salvation. In the final chapter, we will see how 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

the theme of the salvator salvandus, the self-saving saviour, reaches its fullest 
development in VALIS (1991d [1981]), which I argue constitutes, alongside 
and in dialogue with the Exegesis, Dick’s most immanently soteriological use 
of dynamic fabulation. 

The mechanization of pot-healing 

In contrast to the tangible sense of evil which infuses the mechanizing forces 
of High Castle or Palmer Eldritch, Galactic Pot-Healer addresses such threats 
in a lighter, semi-parodic tone. Mechanization, in many of the forms already 
discussed, still afflicts the inhabitants of the human society it presents from all 
sides. The protagonist, Joe Fernwright, is fixed rigidly in place, both physically 
and socially, within a hyper-bureaucratized social machine. His workspace 
is restricted to a single small cubicle in a building composed of thousands of 
identical units (7). This familiar figure of modern alienation, the featureless, 
grid-like office block, has here, in a manner not without parallels in the contem- 
porary industrialization and capitalization of creativity, extended its reach to all 
areas of the workforce, erasing the distinctions between artisanal, imaginative, 
administrative and business careers. Joe is a ‘pot-healer’, a restorer of broken 
ceramics, but his vocation is no different from any other in terms of the way 
the workforce is organized. The social machine’s first priority is to maintain its 
own equilibrium, as emphasized by its prioritizing the maintenance of the daily 
routine over its useful output; it is more important that Joe and all the others 
in his class turn up for work, sit in their cubicles all day and go home to their 
underground apartments at night, than whether they actually have any work to 
carry out. This is especially evident in Joe’s case, since very few ceramics exist 
for him to ‘heal’. Dick’s parodic exposition of the contradictions of bureaucracy 
is carried down to the most mundane level, as a police officer hovers over the 
street and threatens to arrest Joe for walking too slowly on his way to work (4-5). 

Joe’s social mobility is just as rigidly managed as his pedestrian. The sole 
means by which he might be able to change career is a coin-operated automated 
service called Mr Job - yet the devaluation of the currency and the hyper- 
inflated economy, in which coins appear to have become the most valuable 
money-form, mean that no one can realistically make sufficient use of the 
service. That this automated device, the ‘ultimate visage of black iron (13), is 
simultaneously treated as a potential route to salvation and, in its machinic 
unresponsiveness, the antithesis of salvation, is highlighted when a colleague 

How We Became Post-Android 


says, ‘[n]o prayers ... no nothing, will get that godbedamned machine to spit 
out one additional word’ (12). 

These mechanizing processes extend right into the private realm, in which 
an array of automated services have the primary function of perpetuating their 
involvement in Joe’s life rather than actually improving it. His bed, for example, 
forces upon the sleeper a mandatory dream prescribed by the government - ‘one 
dream for everyone. But, thank god, a different dream each night’ (20). In an 
attempt to avoid being forced to dream, Joe throws the ‘sex lever’ to try to trick the 
bed into thinking he is not sleeping. However, it deduces from his weight that there 
is only one person present, and induces sleep. That night’s unrefusable offering is a 
money-centred fantasy in which the dreamer has won a competition to have their 
design used on new bank-notes issued by the state (21-2). This closed fabulation 
displays the contradictory logic underlying the hyper-mechanization of modern 
society (a logic which possibly also highlights one of the underlying affinities 
between certain common capitalist and communist images of the ideal society): 
everyone dreams the same dream in which they are uniquely raised above the rest 
of society - everyone is the most important person in the world. 

Other mechanisms in Joe’s apartment display this same motif, offering 
‘services’ which turn out to have the primary effect of mechanizing those they 
are apparently intended to serve. A free government information service offers 
information to all on virtually any subject, but access is restricted to a couple 
of minutes’ usage per day; the private enterprise equivalent, Mr Encyclopedia, 
would cost Joe two years’ saving for the same amount of information. A 3D 
projection on his apartment wall of ‘a view of the sea and of towering redwoods’ 
(14) is supposed to compensate for his having to live underground, yet it has 
been replaced by a black pane of glass because he is unable to keep up the 
monthly payments; and even if he could renew the lease he would have to 
pay more to re-activate the accompanying encephalic device that is supposed 
to convince him of the view’s authenticity (yet another of the artificial aids to 
fabulation that proliferate in Dick’s stories). 

These are all caricatured examples of the outcome of what Bergson referred 
to as the ‘mistake at the points’ which has placed humans under the control 
of mechanism, rather than the reverse. In many of the above examples, we 
see uses of fabulation intended to help maintain the coherence of society, 
actually resulting in the mechanization of its citizens. Such effects can also be 
identified with aspects of Foucault’s and Agamben’s discussions of biopower, 
the management of life and lives that Agamben suggests marks the hidden 
affinity between democracy and totalitarianism (1998: 121-3). Mechanization 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

characterizes modern society before such ideological distinctions as communist/ 
capitalist or democratic/totalitarian, and closed fabulation operates in and 
threatens all such social forms, by virtue of its inadequacy to fulfil its primary 
function (of preventing the destruction of life) on increasingly global scales. 

Joe occupies himself at work with what he calls ‘the Game’, a forerunner of 
the kinds of interactive online activities that by the early twenty-first century 
would become ubiquitous means of passing/wasting the time in which one is 
required to be sitting at a desk. His description of it sounds like a depressive 
reflection on social networking: ‘Contact with others, he thought; through the 
Game our isolation is lanced and its body broken. We peep out, but what do 
we see, really? Mirror reflections of our own selves, our bloodless, feeble count- 
enances, devoted to nothing in particular, insofar as I can fathom it. Death is 
very close, he thought’ (10). Other than the Game, Joe’s only hope of respite 
is his pot-healing talent, which at least offers the possibility of giving his life a 
purpose. He does not simply ‘fix’ a pot, reassembling the broken pieces, which 
would produce what Bergson terms a ‘factitious unity’. Rather, in ‘healing’ a 
ceramic object, Joe considers himself to be re-establishing it in its pre-broken 
state as ‘a single homogeneous unit’ (15) in which ‘[ejverything fuses; every- 
thing flows’ (65). As opposed to his job, which is not socially distinguished 
from those of the occupants of the thousands of other cubicles in his building, 
pot-healing is his singular calling, his vocation - within his own understanding, 
his reason for being: ‘A ceramic pot was a wonderful thing, and each that he 
healed became an object that he loved, which he never forgot; the shape of it, the 
texture of it and its glaze, remained with him on and on’ (3). Significantly, Joe’s 
calling displays qualities of the Bergsonian mystic, re-establishing the conti- 
nuity between the pot in its present state with its past, in a gesture extending 
love even to the level of the inanimate. It is perhaps appropriate in terms of 
the construction of the novel that this talent, the restoration of living existence 
where there is none, has been rendered virtually obsolete by the mechanized 
society in which he lives - and that a lack of pots for him to heal has placed 
him in a desperately depressive state: ‘He had thought of suicide. Once he 
had thought of a major crime, of killing someone high up in the hierarchy of 
Peaceful International World Senate. But what good would that do?’ (4). Joe is 
simultaneously able to consider himself ‘the best pot-healer on earth’ (3) and at 
the same time feel, since he is not called on to fulfil his vocation, that ‘my work 
isn’t good enough’ (4, original italics). 

Joe’s chances of escaping the increasingly intolerable mechanizing condi- 
tions of his existence are thus extremely limited. In an all-or-nothing attempt to 

How We Became Post-Android 


find a way out, he takes his savings - sixty-five quarters - to Mr Job. His hopes 
are obliterated when, on his way there, he is confronted by a large group of 
people even worse off than himself, ‘the mass of Cleveland’s unemployed - and 
unemployable’ (33), who, on perceiving his sack of coins, surround him with ‘a 
ring of outstretched, open hands’ (34). By ‘a strange impulse’ he finds himself 
giving away his coins. This act of charity, alien to the mechanizing society, 
immediately brings two cops to confront him; when he reflexively offers one of 
them a quarter, they shoot him between the eyes with a laser beam (37). 

The alien god 

Joe’s charitable act of giving away the coins - if ultimately rather futile - 
displays, literally, caritas, selfless love, however impermanently. In addition to 
attracting the attention of the police, it calls another unlooked-for entity to him, 
one who may well offer an unexpected possibility of salvation. The Glimmung 
is an alien being with powers that from an ordinary human perspective appear 
transcendent. It has already contacted Joe through both conventional and 
unconventional means (for example through the ‘mail-tube’ system at his 
office, and by causing a note to materialize in the water closet of his toilet). 
The Glimmung extracts Joe from his arrest by transmuting the police station 
into a giant aquarium and transporting him to a packing crate in a downtown 
basement, where he talks to him via a phone-in radio show before opening the 
crate. This convoluted, somewhat surreal procedure is typical of the way the 
Glimmung’s apparently divine or miraculous qualities are repeatedly blended 
with comically mundane elements: at this first meeting, it appears as two great 
hoops, one of water and one of fire - ‘the basis for the universe’ - rotating 
about a central nucleus (41); yet draped over this impressive elemental form is 
a paisley shawl. This technique of undercutting, which Dick uses several times 
with the Glimmung, but also with the robot Willis and, crucially, with Joe at the 
very end of the novel - and always in the context of salvation - is a trope which 
repeatedly immanentizes a transcendent quality or figure, as part of the larger 
strategy of dynamic fabulation. 

The Glimmung displays qualities of Bergson’s true mystic and Pauline 
messianism. Both Joe and another character, Mali Yojez, attest to his/its ability 
to understand them intuitively, as if from the inside out, in contrast to the 
telepathy used, for example, by the police for surveillance. As Yojez puts it, 
‘Glimmung looked into the basis of my life; it was as if he saw all the way back 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

through my life, saw it all pass along and lead here, to this point. And he saw that 
at this point it isn’t worth living. Except for this’ (57). The Glimmung reconnects 
a mechanized present in which life has been placed under the sign of death, with 
the continuity of that life’s past, its continual growth, re-establishing at least the 
potential for a re-insertion in duration, a creatively evolving way of living. 

Yet he has practical reasons for effecting this supposed spiritual renewal: the 
Glimmung is enlisting the talents of Joe, Mali Yojez and many others, in a great 
undertaking, the raising of the once-magnificent cathedral Heldscalla from the 
depths of the ocean on his home-world. Plowman’s Planet. Importantly, he has 
selected them vocationally: ‘The Raising will take great skill, many skills, many 
knowings and crafts, vast numbers of arts’ (50). The Glimmung’s contact with 
Joe and the others is thus emphatically a calling - his first note to Joe addresses 
him by vocation rather than by name: ‘POT-HEALER, I NEED YOU’ (13). 
In seeking their practical skills, the Glimmung assigns Joe and the others the 
status of ‘being called’ in the Pauline sense, whereby, according to Agamben, 
klesis (‘calling’) indicates a ‘messianic vocation that is the revocation of every 
vocation (TR: 23, original italics). Joe’s involvement in the Raising of Heldscalla, 
despite appearances, as Agamben says of the messianic vocation, ‘does not 
entail substituting a less authentic vocation with a truer vocation’ (2005: 23). 
(Such a substitution is what Joe had hoped to make by taking his coins to Mr 
Job - which for both the Glimmung and Agamben would have been to miss 
any chance of salvation, of the messianic.) Rather, the messianic quality of the 
Glimmung’s Undertaking consists in its revocation of the former worldly situa- 
tions - not only professions, but every determination based on social status, 
class and other divisions between people: ‘Klesis indicates the particular trans- 
formation that every juridical status and worldly condition undergoes because 
of, and only because of, its relation to the messianic event’ (TR: 22). 

The Glimmung’s call to become part of his Undertaking is this messianic 
event for Joe and the others. Bringing the great cathedral up from its state of 
decay at the bottom of the ocean is a form of resurrection - as signified at the 
end of the novel, when the Undertaking is finally begun, and the cathedral is 
transformed into a foetal child (172); and like the Christian resurrection, this 
messianic event has the potential to confer a new life on those faithful to it. As Joe 
puts it, ‘Glimmung [. . .] told me about life waiting for something to come along 
and sustain it [. . .] He said that this Undertaking, this Raising of Heldscalla, was 
that thing, that event, for me’ (56-7). If the transformation brought about by 
klesis involves the ‘expropriation of each and every juridical-factical property 

How We Became Post-Android 


(circumcised/uncircumcised; free/slave; man/woman)’ (Agamben, 2005: 26), 
this takes place literally, physically, for all those called later in the novel when 
they physically become part of the Glimmung (159). Yet (more importantly) the 
transformation is also spiritual, and has already occurred for Joe just through 
the event of being called: talking about the Glimmung’s contacting him, about 
the possible salvation the Glimmung has offered, ‘he felt his conviction grow 
until it became absolute and powerful, and he felt it change him; it woke him 
up until, by now, he could say, as Glimmung put it, I am’ (57). This is a partial 
reason why, at the novel’s close, Joe can ultimately reject the Glimmung’s offer 
to remain with him as part of a corporate entity - to remain part of the saviour 
- for a thousand years. 

Yet the aspect of the Glimmung that is closest to Bergsonian mysticism lies 
in neither his processual, elemental nature, nor his intuitive appreciation of 
what Mali Yojez calls the ‘basis’ of people’s lives: it is, rather, in that his salvific 
purpose is to awaken, as Bergson puts it, ‘the mystic dormant within us, merely 
waiting for an occasion to awake’ (MR: 100). Despite the Glimmung’s call, it was 
Joe’s own ‘conviction that ‘woke him up’. Indeed, as Bergson suggests, the person 
aroused by the true mystic may be responding, ‘in certain circumstances’, to his 
own personality (MR: 100). 

This suggestion, that a response to a mystic personality might ultimately be 
a response, in some sense, to oneself, is a further hint that some form of self- 
salvation may be essential to the possibility of immanent salvation. We touched 
on this possibihty in the last chapter in considering the projection of self on 
to the object, which becomes, in certain contexts, a condition encouraging the 
production of the divine. The suggestion in Pot-Healer that the saviour-figure 
may awaken the mystic in others not simply through calling them, or becoming 
a model to follow, but by placing them in a position to become their own 
saviours, furthers the emerging Dickian logic of self- salvation by pointing to the 
likelihood that the saviour-figure must ultimately efface itself At the same time, 
it reminds us that immanent self-salvation must actually or apparently (in either 
case with the help of fabulation) take place through the involvement of a third 
party. There must, at least at some level, be belief in the saviour’s existence for it 
to be effective; yet as I have tried to emphasize, an immanent notion of salvation 
depends on the acceptance that actually transcendent (in the sense of divine or 
supernatural) figures probably do not exist. Thus the most effective immanent 
saviour-figure is the one that takes itself out of the picture while leaving behind 
the effects - traces or intimations - of its fabulated transcendence. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

The saviour in need 

The Glimmung is not only attempting to awaken in others a capacity for self- 
salvation, but is genuinely engaged in a desperate attempt to save himself Mali 
Yojez is both right and wrong when she suggests that the Glimmung ‘planned 
this Undertaking to save us. [...] The Raising of Heldscalla is only a pretext’ 
(53, original italics). Yet although all those he has brought to Plowman’s Planet 
had ‘intended to destroy yourselves, and were in the process of so doing when 
I found you’ (87), he really does need them.' The dynamic tabulation at work 
in Galactic Pot-Healer primarily consists in increasingly rendering the appar- 
ently all-powerful Glimmung as fallible, ultimately to a critical, life-threatening 
extent, such that his own salvation is as much at stake as those he ostensibly 
comes to save. Joe receives information early on (albeit from a dubious source) 
that the Glimmung is fragile and senile. Though this is counter to his and 
the other recruits’ experiences of the Glimmung’s vitality, it causes him to 
begin to have doubts. As he learns more about his putative saviour, strong 
parallels between their situations emerge. Far from being all-powerful, the 
Glimmung is at times deeply pessimistic about his chances of success in the 
great Undertaking. He spends much of his time inhabiting the lonely, murky 
depths of the ocean on Plowman’s Planet, just as Joe in his earthly environment 
returned each night to his depressing, subterranean apartment. Likewise, where 
Joe does not take advantage of the possibility of having pleasant surroundings 
faked for him via a 3D projection, so the Glimmung eschews available artifi- 
cially tabulated enhancements to his environment: ‘Where I dwell there are no 
lights. I could of course manufacture life, light, and activity around me, but they 
would be extensions of myself alone’ (85-6). The Glimmung refuses the strategy 
used by Palmer Eldritch, of seeking to overcome his own isolation by producing 
a world consisting only of projections of himself 

The Glimmung is also threatened by a metaphysical set of forces of mecha- 
nization, represented by the ‘Black Glimmung’ and the strange, quasi-mystical 
Kalends, which mirror the physical threats experienced by Joe on Earth. The 
Black Glimmung is a kind of dark mirror-image of the Glimmung, his supposed 
nemesis, a living, or at least, moving - Joe refers to it as ‘the synthesis of life 
only’ (125) - apostrophe of decay which manifests mechanization in its most 
general, entropic form. Where the negentropic Glimmung sees his purpose as 
the Raising of Heldscalla, the Black Glimmung exists to keep the cathedral in 
its submerged, ruined state, in which it will gradually decay into nothingness. 
In his struggle against such an opponent, the Glimmung needs not only the 

How We Became Post-Android 


talents of those he has brought to Plowmans Planet, but their energy, their living 
force, to the extent that he wants them to bond with him physically and ‘live, as 
separate entities, within my one somatic presence’ (159). 

The figure of somatic bonding in effect (corpo)realizes a state in which 
most of the characters, including the Glimmung, have already been for some 
time: each has already become part of a corporate entity seeking self-salvation 
through their mutual dependence on one another, before the Glimmung made 
this literal by absorbing them into his body. However, when the characters 
first become aware of the Glimmung’s fallibility, the fact that he is not the 
all-powerful being they had believed, they initially lose faith in the project, 
preferring to return to their miserable but familiar former lives. Their doubts 
have been strengthened by a peculiar aspect of Plowman’s Planet, the Book of 
the Kalends, a mystical, perpetually updated text, which purports to record in 
advance the planet’s history. It appears to chronicle the Glimmung’s defeat and 
the failure of his Undertaking (77). Yet, as with the Black Iron Prison, the Nazi 
war machine, and indeed most ideologically dependent institutions, it seems 
that much of the power of the Kalends’ mysticism derives from the belief that is 
conferred upon it. It comes down again to a question of assenting to ‘reality’. 

The Glimmung engages in a mortal struggle with his nemesis deep in the 
ocean. His team hurries to the space-port to leave the planet, fearing the wrath 
of the victorious Black Glimmung, with only Joe electing to remain, watching 
in a melancholic state from the water’s edge (138-9). It is at this point, when 
the saviour’s transcendent qualities are most in doubt, that Joe’s own salvific 
potential is most fully realized. Having placed his faith in the Glimmung despite 
the disappearance of his transcendent qualities - in other words, placing faith in 
his immanent capacity, deriving from his biological strength and will to survive 
- Joe inadvertently puts himself in a position to be able to save the others. The 
Glimmung finally routs his opponent, triumphing not only over the mechan- 
izing force embodied by his foe, but over the Kalends’ attempt to mechanize 
both history and the future. When the defeated, dying Black Glimmung hurtles 
towards the space-port to destroy the others, Joe is able to get a message to 
them, letting them know of the battle’s unexpected outcome, so that they are 
able to disembark the ship before it is obliterated. 

The elements that associate Galactic Pot-Healer with a process of dynamic 
fabulation, making it something more than a story of certain living entities 
being saved, are crystallized in Joe’s ultimate rejection of the Glimmung’s offer 
to take part in the Undertaking. With his enemy defeated, the Glimmung is 
free to carry out the raising of Heldscalla, though this remains an immense. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

arduous task. The destruction of the Black Glimmung, one embodiment of 
mechanization, does not mean the removal of the forces of mechanization and 
entropy from the world, but constitutes an event affirming the ability of the 
living to go on countering these forces. The Glimmung invites the others to 
combine with him as a corporate entity. This way, he says, ‘we can function for 
a thousand years, and none of us will be alone’ (173, original italics). Joe is well 
aware of what he would gain in accepting this offer. The sources of his suffering 
- mechanization, isolation, depression - would almost certainly be overcome; 
he would be able to spend a massively extended life engaging in the activity that 
he loves; and he would be with Mali Yojez, with whom he has the chance to 
experience ‘the most tender love possible’ (66). 

Knowing all this, the one the Glimmung most expected and hoped would 
join him (174) ultimately elects to remain alone. Why should someone turn 
down a virtually guaranteed offer of a long, happy and fulfilled life? In light of 
the struggle against determinism that has allowed Joe to reach this point, it may 
be that it is the guarantee itself - rather than the chance of happiness - that he 
is unwilling to accept. Those of Dick’s characters who embrace the possibility 
of a desirable future programmed in advance - such as Floyd Jones, Arnie Kott, 
Reese Verrick - do not tend to fare well. Joe’s decision can be interpreted as an 
indication of the intimations of determinism that still reside in the Glimmung’s 
project. Despite the clear difference between this and the mechanistic future 
represented by the Book of the Kalends, there is still an element of closure in the 
Undertaking - not least in the physical closure within a single entity it neces- 
sitates, but also in its consigning of those involved to an entire lifetime spent 
working towards a single task, however soul-enriching this task may be. Once 
they accept his offer, the Glimmung tells them, they will not be able to separate 
from him again: even this life-affirming endeavour would mean closing off 
certain aspects of the future, of the potential for further creative evolution. 

By the end of the novel, the possibility of salvation which the Glimmung 
represents for Joe has already been actualized: its potential (dynamis) is its 
realization (energeia). He was awakened by the call of the Glimmung, and is 
committed to that event, to the renewed anti-mechanistic subjectivity it has 
conferred on him, amounting to a capacity for self-salvation, rather than to 
the specific, worldly project to which the call ostensibly related. Accordingly 
he determines to move on from healing pots - from restoring the past - to 
creating his own - forging the future. In this he echoes Frank Frink’s decision 
in High Castle to cease making antique replicas and begin producing his own 

How We Became Post-Android 


new creations. Since this is an attempt to turn away from closure, rather than to 
select the objectively better of two possible paths, there must be no certainty of 
success. The outcomes of the endeavour must remain open, and it is appropriate 
in this regard that the first pot Joe makes, in which he looks for ‘his justification 
[...] for leaving Glimmung and all the others’, is ‘awful’ (177). In this further use 
of the device of undercutting at the very close of the novel, Dick highlights the 
fact that any adequate notion of salvation must be without guarantee. 

Furthermore, it would seem reasonable to suggest, especially in light of 
Dick’s relentless interrogation of the nature of salvation in relation to his own 
mystical visions a few years later in the Exegesis, that he himself might have 
considered the Glimmung’s corporate entity too easy a way out. The Glimmung 
remains in several respects a typical sci-fi alien, too fantastical to offer much 
in the way of practical salvation to Dick or his readers. Thus we can see in 
Joe’s turning away from the alien god, Dick’s own turning away from the easy 
answers that science fiction can sometimes feign; this would be in keeping with 
the subversion of generic science fiction elements that, as we have seen, many 
commentators have pointed to as the key to Dick’s mature approach (e.g. Pagetti 
1992; Fitting 1992a). With the closure of the narrative, the fabulated saviour it 
contains begins to become static. The one in need of salvation, to keep its possi- 
bility open, must move on and start the search again, even if this will only entail 
constructing - fabulating - new transcendent figures and notions of salvation, 
and, like Tagomi with his silver triangle, testing them against the exigencies 
of immanence to see what salvific potential they might yield. It is almost as 
though, at the last moment, having apparently found the path to true salvation, 
near-eternal bliss, Joe realizes that it is pure fantasy - that any absolute salvation 
would have to be considered an illusion - anticipating Dick’s own dialectic 
movement in the Exegesis between belief and scepticism, faith and doubt, 
transcendence and immanence. Joe’s acceptance of the Glimmung’s call to self- 
salvation, coupled with the rejection of his offer of a guaranteed happy future, 
reflects such a movement, which never absolutely abandons either immanence 
or transcendence, but likewise will not allow either to become absolute. 

This is the only way the future possibility of salvation (and the future itself) 
may remain open. It is what remains after the superposition of the transcendent 
figure of eternal bliss upon the immanent realm - a remainder taking the form 
of a badly made, ugly clay pot, which nevertheless marks the vast openness of 
the future. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Robot theology 

Thus far I have focused on the relationship between the human and the alien 
saviour in Galactic Pot-Healer. The novel gradually undermines both as stable, 
bounded figures (or fictions), through a fictionalizing process which increases 
the reader’s sense that the apparently transcendent saviour-figure is himself 
in dire need of salvation, while simultaneously developing an awareness of 
the salvific potential of the immanent human protagonist. If the reader shares 
Joe’s disbelief in and mistrust of the Glimmung at the outset of the novel, and 
his rejection of him at the end - she may also grasp the value of the intima- 
tions of transcendence encountered along the trajectory from one point to 
the other, and so realize at least something of the potential for self- salvation 
within the immanent human world. Thus a division is introduced within the 
division human/god in the manner of the Pauline division of the division flesh/ 
spirit. The human is divided into the capacity for a mechanizing/mechanized 
(closed) existence and the capacity for creative (open) evolution; the saviour 
is likewise divided into open and closed - symbolically, in the juxtaposition of 
the Glimmung against the rival Black Glimmung, and literally, in the way the 
Glimmung’s chances of success or failure in his struggle are made genuinely 
open, uncertain, in opposition to the Kalends’ attempt to impose closure upon 
them, and the future in general. 

Yet the division of the division also takes place in Galactic Pot-Healer in the 
site of the mysticism/mechanism opposition, in the juxtaposition of the Kalends 
against the robot Willis. As seemingly immortal (98) entities able to foretell 
the future (72) and to come and go as they please on Plowman’s Planet (96-8), 
the Kalends are in direct contrast to Willis, a robotic servant who exists only 
to work for others. Initially Willis appears to share mechanistic traits with the 
array of stubborn devices Joe had left behind on Earth, such as a seemingly rigid 
refusal to deviate from pre-designated procedures, even when they are pointless. 
However, it soon becomes clear that the Kalends are in fact on the side of decay 
and destruction, while Willis possesses distinctly living, creative, empathic and 
even mystical qualities. His apparent mechanization masks a sophisticated, free- 
willed personality, as revealed when he gives up on the protocol of responding 
to questions or instructions only when addressed by name, saying ‘aw, the hell 
with it’ (100). 

When Joe encounters a Kalend, it appears ‘like a negative of life itself’ (96). 
The neutrality of the Kalends’ apparent recording of the future has already 
been called into question: the spiddles, a native life-form of Plowman’s Planet, 

How We Became Post-Android 


believe that the Book causes the things it declares to take effect - including the 
eradication of the Fog-Things, once the planet’s dominant species (72). The 
emphasis placed on the connection between the mechanistic worldview and the 
actual rendering-mechanical of life is particularly evident when Joe looks for his 
own name in the Book, and finds the following statement: ‘Joseph Fernwright 
learns that Glimmung considers the Kalends and their Book his antagonist, 
and is said to be plotting to undermine the Kalends’ (77). In the process of 
being read, this becomes a performative statement, enacting that which it 
describes. Later a Kalend points him to a passage which predicts that he will 
discover something in the cathedral at the bottom of the ocean that ‘will cause 
him to kill Glimmung’ and lead to the failure of the Undertaking (98). Again, 
the passage functions to bring about the events it describes, prompting Joe to 
make a submarine trip to view the sunken cathedral during which he awakens 
the Black Glimmung and forces the Glimmung into battle prematurely, which 
almost leads to his death. 

This performative technique is employed again when Joe encounters his 
own decaying corpse (113), a vision of his future fate that is intended to fulfil 
itself by causing Joe to abandon faith in the Glimmung. As Joe later puts it, 
when waiting almost hopelessly for the outcome of the Glimmung’s under- 
water battle: ‘the Book made a pool ball out of me, an object set in motion, as 
in Aristotle’s view of the world. One moving pool ball hits the next; it hits a 
third; that is the essence of life’ (139). The Kalends have used their mechanistic 
outlook to reduce Joe to the status of the mechanical - carrying out what they 
willed because he believed it to be inevitable, even though he himself did not 
wish it to happen; and when he makes this statement, believing he has indeed 
brought about the Glimmung’s death, he has come to see all life through the 
lens of mechanism. 

Yet as we have seen, these pessimistic thoughts do not consume Joe entirely, 
since this also turns out to be the moment at which his salvific potential is 
most fully realized. His appreciation of the fact that mechanism (the Book) 
mechanizes, that a deterministic perspective renders things deterministic, is 
at the same time a realization of the non -inevitability of what it proclaims: if 
it enacts what it says only on the basis of one’s belief in it, one can choose to 
believe otherwise, and contribute to the production of an alternative reality. One 
reality field may then begin to seem less solid, as another begins to materialize. 
Joe’s experience of the Kalends’ use of fabulation to bring about closure has 
effectively awakened his awareness of the transformative potential that can be 
accessed through a dynamic use of fabulation. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

In its simplest form, dynamic fabulation describes (or imagines, conceives, 
depicts) that which has become mechanical (including the fabulator) as not 
so, and by this description renders it ‘open’ - which essentially does not mean 
saved from mechanization, but indicates a state of being such that its future is 
no longer determined. In battling not only the Black Glimmung, but simultan- 
eously the mechanizing determinism that attempts to predestine his defeat, the 
Glimmung’s uncertainty regarding his chances of success becomes essential: 
‘It may work; it may not. I don’t claim to know; I am only hoping. I have no 
certitude about the future - nor does anyone else, including the Kalends. That is 
the basis of my entire position. And my intent’ (86, original italics). This further 
underlines the importance of Joe’s ultimate rejection of the Glimmung’s offer of 
guaranteed future happiness: in maintaining uncertainty about what is to come, 
he is actually adopting the Glimmung’s outlook and strategy. 

The supposedly mystical Kalends are thus shown to be mechanistic and 
mechanizing entities which are antithetical to, and have no real understanding 
of life: ‘with them, Joe Fernwright thought, there is not life but merely a synopsis 
of life. We are a thread that passes through their hands; always in motion, 
always flowing, we slip by and are never fully grasped’ (97). In contrast, the 
robot Willis, supposedly a mere machine, has a deeper understanding of life 
and what Bergson calls true mysticism than most humans. Beyond citing poetry 
and writing pamphlets on the mythology of the deities of Plowman’s Planet, he 
declares the same antipathy as Joe and other living creatures towards the forces 
embodied by the Black Glimmung and the Kalends: ‘[n]o structure, even an 
artificial one, enjoys the process of entropy. It is the ultimate fate of everything, 
and everything resists it’ (101). When debating the question of the Glimmung’s 
fallibility with Joe, he points to Christ as ‘an interesting deity’ due to his ‘limited 
power’ (105). The robot theologian explains, ‘Christ stands empty handed; he 
can save no one, not even himself And yet, by his concern, his esteem, for others, 
he transcends’ (105). He is interrupted before he can fully explain, yet it is clear 
to Joe that the robot possesses an understanding of the importance of caritas 
where others present do not (107). Furthermore, Willis makes several gestures 
which demonstrate his caritas, in particular through unprompted displays of 
concern for Joe’s well-being, including the practical gift of a plastic carton in 
which to bring up shards of damaged pots, and the impractical offering of a 
religious charm or symbol to take with him to the sunken cathedral, which he 
himself admits will be of no practical help (110). That these gifts are unsought, 
and that Willis has to explain them to Joe, emphasizes that he is reducible to 
neither machine nor servant (roles in which he would be able to show ‘concern’ 

How We Became Post-Android 


only as a form of labour). As if to confirm Willis’ inclusion in the category of 
the living, he is engulfed along with the others when the Glimmung draws them 
into its ‘magnasoma’ (158). 

Willis is an immanent soteriologist, or at least, theologian: in posing the 
question of how Christ, with all his limitations, can be considered a deity and 
saviour, he reflects a question posed by his own existence - how can a mechanical 
being possess caritas, or be concerned with salvation? The dynamic fabulation 
of Galactic Pot-Healer addresses these questions, supplying with regard to the 
Glimmung the answer that Willis is prevented from completing with regard 
to Christ: the Glimmung’s caritas combines with his fundamental fallibility to 
awaken in Joe the capacity for salvation and self-salvation; without this fallibility, 
there would be no possibility of identification with the saviour, and no openness 
with regard to the future. This is an enacting of Badiou’s life-death chiasmus, 
a dividing of the life/death division. By the same token, the capacity of a robot 
servant to display open morality, to become mystical in the Bergsonian sense of 
valuing life and resisting mechanization - while the ostensibly mystical Kalends 
turn out to be a force of mechanization - emphasizes that such potential is 
within even the most seemingly mechanical modes of existence. 

Humans: The cosmic bourgeoisie 

Some of the ways in which the human commonly imagines its relationship to 
certain kinds of nonhuman other - such as gods, androids, animals, aliens - 
could be mapped on to the broad delineation of classes within many human 
societies: that is, into the three categories of those who work for others, those 
who work for themselves, and those who do not work. In various early cosmog- 
onies, such as Hesiod’s Works and Days (2008 [c. 700 bce]), or the ancient 
Mesopotamian myth Atrahasis (Ipiq-aya 1998 [c. 1700 bce]), the gods create 
humans to carry out manual labour they do not wish to perform themselves. 
Following a period of unrest, with or without the help of a Promethean figure 
(a rogue dissident turning traitor to his own divine upper class), the humans 
establish for themselves a degree of autonomy. In modern science fiction, robots 
and androids are usually created for the same purpose, to carry out work on 
behalf of their creators, an act which relocates humans in the position occupied 
by gods in their own cosmogonies (although, as in a capitalist system, it remains 
uncertain whether they acquire their divine attributes by creating workers, or 
simply by not working). 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

By virtue of the others it creates, the human is thus able to position itself 
as both inferior and superior, the fallen god and the spiritual animal - a kind 
of cosmic middle-class. Where in Galactic Pot-Healer those recruited for the 
Glimmung’s great Undertaking situate themselves towards the lower ends of the 
various species to which they belong, as the wretched, those in need of salvation, 
the protagonist of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1993a [1968]), a 
bounty hunter of fugitive androids, sees himself as effectively already-saved. In 
Rick Deckard’s worldview or reality field he is automatically, as human, radically 
superior to nonhumans, his sense of the absolute difference between himself 
and the androids he hunts being reflected in the way he prizes living animals 
over externally identical replicas (such as electric sheep). Yet once again, the 
novel’s deconstruction of the human/saviour and the human/ android divisions, 
closed cultural fictions which are opened up through dynamic fabulating, is 
directed towards the awakening of the capacity for self-salvation within the 
mechanized-mechanizing human. 

Deckard’s ability to view himself as living a privileged, superior life, despite 
the fact that he inhabits a world crippled by nuclear war and its aftermath, 
far from being unusual, is a fairly common human trait. It is integral to the 
psychology that throughout human history has sustained slavery, class, caste 
systems, and many other forms of social violence and inequality (e.g. on the 
basis of race, gender, religion or physical capacity). Those with the power to 
transform the situation see no need, regarding themselves as already-saved 
and others as not requiring or not worthy of salvation. This self-perception is 
therefore just as important a target for dynamic fabulation as the self-perception 
of those who believe themselves beyond hope: the two positions - that which 
views salvation as unnecessary, and that which takes it to be impossible - are 
to be challenged as fabulations maintaining closed morality. As we will see, 
Deckard’s trajectory through the novel encompasses both these positions, as he 
goes from viewing himself as fully self-sufficient, requiring no support (let alone 
salvation), to a state of utter despair, in which he believes he is beyond salvation. 
The modicum of hope the novel offers - its own soteriological trajectory - lies 
in the way it subtly encourages us to conclude that he is wrong in both cases. 

By all appearances, Deckard’s world is as threatened by mechanization as any 
other of Dick’s scenarios. A global nuclear war has left Earth depopulated, and 
those who remain inhabit a decaying urban infrastructure, their health under 
constant threat from radioactive dust: ‘The legacy of World War Terminus 
had diminished in potency; those who could not survive the dust had passed 
into oblivion years ago, and the dust, weaker now and confronting the strong 

How We Became Post-Android 


survivors, only deranged minds and genetic properties’ (11). As one of these 
‘strong survivors’, Deckard is surprisingly, almost unnaturally upbeat at the 
beginning of the novel. This is suggested in the very first paragraph, as he jumps 
eagerly out of bed in his multi-coloured pyjamas, ready to start his working day, 
very much resembling the ‘super-everyman’ typical of the pulp science fiction 
tradition (Russ 1975; see Chapter 2). Androids can be read, in a manner paral- 
leling Fetter Fitting’s (1992b) reading of Ubik, as a systematic deconstruction of 
the conventional science fiction protagonist, culminating in his mental, physical 
and spiritual near-collapse. 

We are led to believe initially that Deckard’s positive early morning outlook 
is brought about by the Penfield mood organ, a device which can be set to create 
different affective states through ‘artificial brain stimulation’ (10) and whose 
‘merry little surge of electricity’ (7) is what wakes him; yet we are soon told that 
he ‘hardly needed’ its help, since ‘a creative and fresh attitude to his job’ is his 
‘habitual, innate approach’ (10). The merry little surge of electricity is thus more 
a reflection than a cause of his positive attitude - a hint in the very first line of 
the novel that he is, in some sense at least, already on the side of mechanism and 

Yet the process of Deckard’s destabilization, charted across the novel, is 
also begun right here on the first page. His cheery demeanour is immediately 
contrasted against his wife Iran’s ‘grey, unmerry eyes’ and her desire to remain 
asleep (7). Deckard is irritated to find that she has deliberately set her mood 
organ to encourage this state. Their subsequent exchange is both comic and 
unsettling in its exploration of the paradoxes involved in having a machine that 
programmes human moods: how can you ever objectively judge the best mood 
to programme, when the mood you are in while programming has previously 
been determined by an earlier iteration of the same process? Deckard seems able 
to ignore the flaw in his reasoning that his wife, who wants to go back to sleep, 
should programme herself to want to be awake. Similarly, when she asks him 
to turn off the television, he responds by suggesting that she dial ‘the desire to 
watch TV, no matter what’s on it’ (9). When she tells him she does not want to 
dial anything, his response that she should dial a setting that will make her want 
to dial leads to the following outburst: 

I can’t dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial! If I 
don’t want to dial, I don’t want to dial that most of all, because then I will want 
to dial, and wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive I can imagine; I just 
want to sit here on the bed and stare at the floor. (10) 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

The exchange encapsulates the whole problem of the inadequacy of closed 
fabulation in the modern era of mechanization. When the artificiality of a 
means of coping with life, of stimulating the cerebral cortex to bring about a 
positive mood, whether through religion, television or a(nother) little electrical 
device wired into the brain, is revealed, it becomes effectively useless for its 
primary function. When the fictional nature of God and gods is widely accepted 
in a secular society, most do not respond favourably to the suggestion that, if 
they believe in these fictions, they will be happier (though the mind is certainly 
capable of obscuring this fictionality from itself for just such a purpose, 
under the right circumstances). Dynamic fabulation addresses this problem 
by refusing any easy distinction between fiction and reality, between authentic 
and artificial. It attempts to allow the saving power of fabulation to function, as 
it were, in full view. The Penfield mood organ, however, is unable to perform 
such a task, being nothing more than a tool for effecting a particular kind of 
closed fabulation. It can only fulfil its function for those who do not need it: 
Iran, whose mood is naturally low, has programmed for herself ‘a six-hour self- 
accusatory depression’ (8); while Rick has programmed himself a positive mood 
only because this accords with his ‘habitual, innate’ disposition. It is the closed 
fabulation sustaining this disposition, his sense of his innate superiority, which 
the mood organ can only reinforce, that is opened up or challenged through 
dynamic fabulation in the course of the novel. Deckard’s self-perception 
as already-saved is based first on the sense of supremacy that comes from 
awareness of his survivor status; and second on his non-mechanized, living 
status in contrast to the androids which/whom it is his job, as bounty hunter, 
to ‘retire’. 

At the start of the novel, along with his optimistic outlook, Deckard has 
absolute faith in the androids’ mechanistic, non-living status. As the android 
Rachael Rosen observes, “‘You have no difficulty viewing an android as inert 
[...] So you can ‘retire’ it, as they say’” (35). In one of the lines that survived 
with only slight alterations the long process of transforming the novel into 
the film Blade Runner (1982), Deckard makes clear his pragmatic, uncompli- 
cated approach: for him, an android ‘is like any other machine, it can fluctuate 
between being a benefit and a hazard very rapidly. As a benefit it’s not our 
problem’ (35). The gradual blurring of the distinction between human and 
android which is one of the key dimensions of the rest of the story, central to 
many critical discussions of both the novel and the film (Francavilla 1991: 9; 
Barlow 1991; Fitting 1992a: 134), is simultaneously the occasion for Deckard’s 
loss of self-certainty and thus his self-discovery as in need of salvation. 

How We Became Post-Android 


The paradoxes Deckard is able to ignore when arguing with his wife over her 
use of the Penfield mood organ are also inherent - and necessarily bypassed 
- in his understanding of the opposition between human and android. Carlo 
Pagetti has suggested that Dick ‘challenges the narrative and cultural values of 
SF’, in this case, the man/machine distinction and the self-confident, bourgeois 
hero, ‘not by denying them flatly, but by exploiting them to their extreme formal 
and ideological consequences’ (1992: 25). The deconstruction of Deckard’s 
self-certainty largely takes place through the gradual revealing or forcing into 
view of such logical inconsistencies. This is a challenge not only to Deckard, or 
to the conventional science fiction protagonist, but also to the self-conception 
as ‘already-saved’ which I suggested in discussing High Castle is arguably 
an implicit aspect of the post-war Western psyche, and its corresponding 
humanist ethics. 

The logical contradictions involved in trying to sustain a rigid human/ 
android distinction are already implicit in Deckard’s situation, needing only 
the right catalysing situations to make them directly observable. He is required 
to display the very lack of empathy that is supposedly the defining trait of the 
androids he destroys. Every encounter he has with an android (and virtually 
with any entity) involves some version of this difficulty. Initially he displays the 
capacity to ignore the inconsistencies and maintain a pragmatic approach, but 
the unprecedented intensity of having to retire six androids within twenty-four 
hours - his previous record being four in one month (15) - gradually wears 
down his psychological defence mechanisms. 

The six androids Deckard is to retire on the day the novel’s action takes place 
have recently escaped from Mars, where they had worked as slaves for human 
colonists. The first encounter poses little or no challenge to Deckard’s self- 
confidence - largely because his life is directly threatened. When he is attacked 
by the android Polokov, there is little opportunity for moral dilemma; Deckard’s 
actions would presumably be the same if he considered Polokov to be alive, just 
as a human Polokov could be expected to react violently to a bounty hunter sent 
to kill him. This practical indistinction, whereby the biological/metaphysical 
status of the two characters has no effect on their actions, hints at the destabi- 
lization of the division between android and human that is to come. There is a 
further hint in the brief moment of confusion when Deckard realizes that he is 
talking to an android rather than a human: “‘You’re not Polokov, you’re Kaladyi” 
[...] “I mean you’re Polokov, the android’” (73). 

The second assignment, though less physically confrontational, proves more 
difficult morally and emotionally. Being, like Dick, a lover of opera, Deckard 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

is pleased to find his next target Luba Luft, who is posing as an opera singer, 
rehearsing The Magic Flute. He is ‘surprised at the quality of her voice’, causing 
him, momentarily, to see himself as a negative, destructive force, ‘part of the 
form-destroying process of entropy’ (77). Indeed, by his own logic, a machine 
that is a benefit to society - as he clearly considers someone with such talent to 
be - should not be his problem. A further contradiction arises when he admin- 
isters the Voigt-Kampff test, designed to distinguish androids from humans, and 
which he is legally required to employ where there is any possible doubt as to 
the status of the subject he is about to retire. The test looks for empathy, on the 
basis that it is a human characteristic which androids are unable to reproduce 
or mimic accurately. Deckard explains that a clear indication of an android’s 
lack of empathy is that it does not care what happens to another android. Luba 
Luft reasonably responds that, since his profession requires him to kill androids 
(and as we already know, he takes a positive attitude to his work), this lack of 
empathy must be one of his own key traits. When he vaguely counters this by 
stating that he has taken the test already, a long time ago, she again correctly 
reasons that, if he were an android, the memory of such a test could easily have 
been implanted, a possibility that has already been discussed (49), or that an 
android Deckard might have killed and replaced the human version after the 
test had been administered (79). 

Deckard’s disorientation is increased when he is arrested and taken to a Hall 
of Justice that he did not know existed. There he meets Phil Resch, another 
bounty hunter, who helps him kill both Luft and the next android on his list, a 
man named Garland, audaciously posing as the police chief Deckard has the 
sense that he has been thrown into a parallel universe, in which Resch is a kind 
of mirror of himself which makes it all the more unsettling when he begins to 
suspect his opposite number of being an android. After seeing the callous way 
in which Resch kills Luba Luft - without administering the test, just because she 
is ‘needling’ him (103) - Deckard voices his suspicion, applying the same logic 
Luft had earlier used against him: ‘I see a pattern. The way you killed Garland 
and then the way you killed Luba. You don’t kill the way I do [...] You like to 
kill. All you need is a pretext’ (106). 

Deckard reasserts his humanity here by stating that he does not enjoy killing 
androids. Yet he was unable to resort to this line of defence earlier when Luft 
challenged his human status. His hesitation, presumably, lies in the fact that 
this admission produces another dilemma: for Deckard to confirm that he 
does not like killing androids is to imply that he regards them as something 
other than ‘mere machines’ - that there is some aspect of them with which it 

How We Became Post-Android 


is possible to empathize, making them entities worthy of emotional and moral 
concern. Such a view could be disastrous for his ability to go on doing his job, 
which is dependent on his being able to remain confident regarding the absolute 
difference between himself as human and the androids as machines. Thus he 
is caught between this and the equally debilitating counter-position: that he 
enjoys or feels no remorse about killing the androids, indicating his affiliation 
with them. Both options force him into a self-identification with the android, 
one by questioning their nonhuman status, the other by questioning his status 
as human: a clear affiliation with either would undermine the notion, in which 
he is deeply invested, that it is acceptable to kill an android. 

Android and theoid 

Deckard is thus ensnared in the contradictory logic of his situation: his job 
requires that he not empathize with androids; yet to remain human he must 
empathize. The effect of the encounter with Resch, redoubled by a romantic 
liaison with the android Rachael Rosen, is to cause his understanding of the 
opposition between human and machine, the basis of his entire outlook - his 
reality field - to undergo a dramatic inversion: 

So much for the distinction between authentic living humans and humanoid 
constructs. In that elevator in the museum, he said to himself, I rode down with 
two creatures, one human the other android . . . and my feelings were the reverse 
of those intended. Of those I’m accustomed to feel - am required to feel. (110) 

This realization occurs after the Voigt-Kampff test has shown Resch to be 
human, despite his displaying what Deckard cannot conceive as anything other 
than inhuman traits. Meanwhile, Rachael Rosen fails the test but inspires an 
emotional and empathic response from Deckard, underscored by his sexual 
involvement with her. Rachael is the property of the Rosen Association, which 
manufactures the androids that are sent to the colonies; yet she is kept on Earth, 
apparently for the primary purpose of stopping bounty hunters like Deckard 
from destroying the company’s commodities. After sleeping with him she 
reveals her role, at which point Deckard tries but finds himself unable to kill 
her. She declares that she has ended the careers of many bounty hunters this way 
(152). Yet even as he recognizes ‘her victory over him’ (153) in that he will now 
have to give up his career, Deckard’s resolve to finish his assignment by retiring 
the remaining three androids on his list only seems to grow. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

A common topic in discussions of the film Blade Runner is the question of 
whether Deckard is actually an android. An often-cited piece of evidence is 
a scene near the end of the film suggesting that the character Detective Gaff 
(played by Edward James Olmos) has access to his dreams.^ There are many 
equivalent hints in the novel, such as the accusation made by Luba Luft, or 
in the linguistic subtleties of Deckard’s interior monologue. For example, the 
Voigt-Kampff test identifies androids on the basis of a lack of empathy towards 
killed or injured animals, looking for reactions of disgust to mentions of 
calf-skin wallets, butterfly collections, bullfighting (42), even the killing of a 
wasp (80): yet despite Deckard’s desperate desire to own a real animal, he thinks 
of the fugitives on his list being ‘plugged like a file of ducks’ (75). 

However, in the novel at least, the question of Deckard’s ontological or 
biological status is rendered irrelevant - whereas the process by which this takes 
place has special significance. Unlike in Dick’s short story ‘Impostor’, where a 
revelation regarding the human/android status of the main character provides 
a satisfying ‘twist’ ending, in Androids the distinction between human and 
android is completely dismantled, such that to ask to which category Deckard 
belongs becomes meaningless. He is clearly at times capable of displaying what 
he regards as both human and android characteristics, just as he is able to regard 
biological humans as morally, emotionally android, and vice versa. 

In the vocabulary of Saint Paul, we may say that the novel undermines the 
android/human distinction as understood according to the flesh, and replaces 
it with the android/human division according to the spirit. This would not be 
a simple exchange of one vocabulary for another, since the question of what 
defines an android is already couched for Dick (and Deckard) in a Pauline 
ethics. Despite appearances, the Voigt-Kampff test is not undermined by the 
production of what might be regarded as flawed results. On the contrary, in 
testing for caritas, for love or empathy, it suggests that this is the only viable 
criterion for determining moral worth or responsibility - for demonstrating 
entitlement to life. This implies that the investigation of the human/android 
distinction in modern science fiction is actually a continuation of a moral 
struggle over definitions, rights and treatment that has been at the heart of 
human social life for most of its history. By the same token, it may prompt us 
to ask whether the question of the android - literally, of the ‘human-like’ as 
opposed to the human - is not also an ancient human question. 

In Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the Mimetic Faculty’, written in 1933, he suggests 
that the ‘gift of seeing resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the 
powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else’ 

How We Became Post-Android 


(1997: 160). Michael Taussig carefully identifies in this short text what he sees as 
one of Benjamins key themes, ‘the surfacing of “the primitive” within modernity 
as a direct result of modernity’ (1993: 20). The figure of the artificially produced 
humanoid in modern science and science fiction, from Descartes’ mechanical 
man (Descartes 1985 [1633]; Descartes 1998 [1637]: 31-2) to Steve Grand’s 
robot orang-utan Lucy (named after a three-million-year-old human ancestor),^ 
from Frankenstein’s creature to Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, may be 
another site of such surfacing. The strange relationship between likeness and 
radical difference, which, far from being opposites, can be understood as deeply 
intertwined, if not mutually (re)producing ideas, is embedded in some of the 
most influential archaic Western accounts of the origins of the human. Where 
an Old Testament God is understood to have created Man in His own image, 
emphasizing a likeness and a separation between the two beings that only make 
sense in tandem, modern founding myths of the humanoid robot or android 
retain this combination of tropes - even down to the masculine bias {android 
literally means manlike - the equivalent feminine term would be gynoid). The 
production of the primitive, whether in image, rhetoric or material form, entails 
its creator’s self-establishment as beyond or above the primitive, yet in a gesture 
that is always threatening to undermine itself 

An aspect of this relationship which, as I mentioned above, is found both 
in ancient myths of human origins and in modern science fiction stories of 
the birth of the android, but which seems strangely absent from the biblical 
cosmogony, is the notion that the new life-forms (human or android) are essen- 
tially created as slaves or instruments, with the sole function of carrying out 
work. (Perhaps a trace of this idea can still be discerned in the Book of Genesis 
in God’s granting to man of dominion over the earth and the animals, which, 
though traditionally understood as an assignation of power, might equally be 
viewed, especially from a contemporary, ecologically aware perspective, as a 
burden of responsibility.) Mythical presentations of humans as labour-saving 
devices may reflect an understanding of mechanization as a fundamental 
human characteristic. However, they also reflect an emancipatory human 
self-conception in which enslavement is understood as having been overcome 
at some pre-historical stage: the acquisition of autonomy, rights, freedoms 
is conceived as accompanying the flight from or overcoming of a primitive 
mode of existence. The accounts of Hesiod, and the Flood narrative recounted 
in Atrahasis, dramatize the struggle between the humans as guiltless victims, 
managing (with help) to evade destruction at the hands of the wrathful gods. 
Though assigning more blame to humans, the Old Testament version retains 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

the theme of a violent negotiation between humanity and divinity, resulting 
in the establishment of a fragile balance. Whether through resistance to or 
appeasement of the divine, such myths tell the story of humanity’s supervening 
of its own mechanization (or primitive state) in order to earn a small measure 
of the autonomy enjoyed by the divine. The human, created as android, becomes 
theoid, godlike. 

Thus to a large extent, the dream of the artificial humanoid being created 
by humans, as found in science fiction, cybernetics, robotics, and other sites 
of modern culture, is a return to some of humanity’s very old mythological 
views of its own origins. This may be one reason for the commonly expressed 
fear that contemporary or future androids will pursue a similar path to that 
which led their theoid creators to their post-android status. Karel Capek’s play 
R.U.R., which coined the term ‘robot’ from a Czech word meaning servitude 
or ‘forced labour’, epitomizes not only the tendency to situate the robot as 
subhuman servant, but the fear of slave revolt that runs through the heart of 
the human relationship with its android others. From Asimov’s robot stories 
to the Terminator films and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series, the 
anticipated overthrow of the humans, leading either to their eradication or 
their subjugation as slaves, the robot/android narrative can be said to replay a 
version of the human conception of its own past emergence from primitivism. 
This process is conceived as necessarily involving struggles with other forms of 
life, animal and divine, in which humanity both expresses and conceals its own 
mechanizing characteristics by transferral on to its nonhuman others. 

Dick’s staging of the human-android relationship, not only through figures 
like Deckard and the theological robot Willis, but through a long series of 
artificial and mechanized humans in his fiction - including the teaching 
machines of Martian Time-slip (1999a [1964]), the demonic, part-mechanical, 
part-divine Palmer Eldritch, the Abraham Lincoln simulacrum of We Can 
Build You (1977b [1972]), Garson Poole, the eponymous organic robot of 
‘The Electric Ant’ (2000b [1969]), not to mention a string of ethically, psycho- 
logically and biologically androidized characters who are supposedly human 
- re-engages this mechanizing and mechanistic potential that is already at the 
heart of the human, but which its own origin myths construct as having been 
overcome. The struggles of androids and other forms of ‘artificial’ life to forget 
or suppress these same mechanizing characteristics in themselves become 
increasingly indistinguishable from those of humans. Patricia Warrick may be 
correct that Dick fears that, in building machines programmed to kill, ‘man will 
become the machine that kills’ (1980: 225). However, in the way he deals with 

How We Became Post-Android 


this idea, his fiction suggests that this is what the human has been all along. 
His dynamic fabulating opens up the closed fabulation, manifest variously in 
numerous mythological, psychological, political and philosophical discourses, 
which depicts this mechanizing dimension (often associated with images of 
animalism or ‘brute nature’) as belonging to a prehistoric, primitive stage that 
has long been left behind. In other words, Dick’s dynamic fabulations of the 
human/android figure take the relationship which many ancient and modern 
mythologies present as binding creators and their creations, and recover its 
status as the relationship between creators and more creators. The static form of 
this relationship, as a rigid hierarchy between superior and inferior beings, gives 
way to an alternative, dynamic conception, which may well have preceded the 
biological and mythological evolution of creation myths, and which indicates 
the continuity or potentially endless growth of the creative thrust of life. 

Creative destruction 

In the course of this discussion of Androids, I have not yet mentioned its most 
explicitly mystical saviour-figure, Wilbur Mercer. While from one perspective 
he may appear almost incidental to the main plot, Mercer also seems to reflect in 
symbolic microcosm Deckard’s inconclusive (thus never successful, yet never- 
quite-defeated) quest for immanent salvation. It is significant that Deckard seeks 
out Mercer - who provides emotional support for ‘most people’ on the planet 
(24) - only as a final act of desperation, when the irreconcilability between his 
mechanizing and anti-mechanistic seems to have left him on the brink of self- 
destruction. By the time he comes to retire the remaining three androids on his 
list - Roy and Irma Baty and their friend Pris - Deckard has decided that after 
this job he can no longer continue as a bounty hunter: ‘This is my end, he said to 
himself [. . .] After the Batys there won’t be any more’ (149). Yet he is still able to 
carry out his task. Indeed, he is if anything by this point more efficient, killing all 
three androids within a few moments, and with minimal communication - in 
direct contrast to his encounters with the previous three, of whom he personally 
killed only one, in defence of his own life, letting Resch kill the other two after 
lengthy interactions. 

Deckard seems therefore to be completely divided in his attitude towards 
androids by the end of the novel. He has empathy for them as other living 
beings - having admitted to Rachael, before she revealed her deception, that 
she is non-living only in a legal, not a biological or moral sense; yet he is still 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

able to destroy them. Though his inability to kill Rachael might be construed 
as a sign of his (and his recognition of her) humanity, it might just as easily be 
interpreted as machine-like pragmatism: after all, she is not on his list of targets 
- killing her is not part of the programme. In this duality, Deckard seems to 
have been alienated from himself, comprising two separate identities which can 
neither accept nor excise one another: ‘But what I’ve done, he thought; that’s 
become alien to me. In fact everything about me has become unnatural; I’ve 
become an unnatural self’ (172). This may be considered the uncanny outcome 
of a twisting science fiction narrative; yet it is also an expression of a funda- 
mental contradiction of the human as a social animal governed simultaneously 
by intuition and intellect, and by closed and open morality. Deckard is placed 
in the archetypal condition of needing salvation, being faced with a seemingly 
impossible situation which it is simultaneously impossible to accept - needing a 
way out of a no-way-out situation. This need is explicitly addressed through the 
figure of Wilbur Mercer. 

Deckard is initially quite sceptical about Mercer’s saviour status, despite 
the fact that much of Earth’s remaining population appears to be made up 
of believers. People place themselves in touch with Mercer through what is 
referred to as the ‘black empathy box’. By gripping the handles of this strange 
device, the user is transported to a barren landscape where they experience 
‘physical merging - accompanied by mental and spiritual identification - with 
Wilbur Mercer’ (21-2). Mercer is locked in a cyclical process of suffering, death 
and rebirth that seems to draw on elements of Jesus’ crucifixion and resur- 
rection, the myth of Sisyphus, and the Bardo Thodol (the text often referred 
to as The Tibetan Book of the Dead). He must engage in an endless climb to 
the top of a hill, while unseen oppressors referred to as ‘the killers’ hurl rocks 
at him. When these rocks strike, the users share Mercer’s pain, and may even 
find themselves cut and bruised after using the empathy box. Each time Mercer 
reaches the hill’s summit, he is cast down into the tomb world, where he has to 
wait an immeasurable time for the bones and corpses of other dead creatures 
around him to ‘metabolize’ back into life (23). When this happens, he finds 
himself once again climbing the hill, and the cycle repeats. 

What do people gain from combining with Mercer in an experience almost 
entirely characterized by suffering? To begin with, there is the sense of the 
transcendence of self that comes from merging with him and others, similar to 
the effect of joining the Glimmung’s ‘magnasoma’ in Galactic Pot-Healer: it is 
not just suffering that is experienced, but shared suffering. Another benefit may 
lie in gaining the awareness users gain that death is not absolute. But beyond 

How We Became Post-Android 


this, Mercer’s suffering minimizes whatever transcendent, miraculous or other 
divine qualities he may be perceived to possess. Together, these aspects amount 
to the enabling of a direct identification with a quasi-divine figure who seems 
to gain no benefit from his supernatural status, coupled with an experience of 
near-universal decay, of ineluctable, painful mortality in which life nevertheless 
endlessly returns. Like Sisyphus, Mercer is being punished for the crime of 
evading death: in his former life, he had made use of a special ‘time-reversal 
faculty’ for bringing the dead back to life (23). The use of this faculty was 
prohibited by law, and to stop him, the authorities - subsequently transmuted 
into the killers - had ‘bombarded the unique nodule that had formed in his brain 
[...] with radioactive cobalt, and this had plunged him into a different world’ 
(23) - the tomb world from which he eventually, though only temporarily, arose. 
Like the punishment of both Christ and Sisyphus, the result is not the absolute 
death that the killers intend, but a form of eternal life, however much suffering it 
entails. The killers have attempted to ‘mortalize’ Mercer through mechanization 
on a spectrum of levels - through the law, technology, social isolation, and, as 
if to show they have tried just about everything, throwing rocks at him. Yet still 
he is not destroyed. Mercer’s history can be read as an illustration the capacity 
of life to go on even after the full range of mechanizing processes have been 
wrought upon it - and thus as establishing a notion of salvation in which a mere 
flicker of transcendent potential, an intimation of the immortal, remains, even 
after the removal of every overt transcendent element. 

Until late in the novel, Deckard displays little interest in Mercer. When 
he does eventually grip the handles of the empathy box, he appears to gain 
nothing positive or salvific from the experience: in fact, Mercer tells him directly 
that ‘[t]here is no salvation (135, original italics), and Deckard reports to his wife 
that ‘Mercer talked to me but it didn’t help. He doesn’t know any more than I do. 
He’s just an old man climbing a hill to his death’ (136). Yet if Mercer’s potential for 
salvation depends in large part upon his becoming-mechanized, his very failure to 
help, and his banality, may be valuable in themselves. For one thing, he confirms, 
both by example and in words, that the helplessness of Deckard’s situation, his 
self- alienation, is not unique to him, but constitutes ‘the basic condition of life’: 

You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic 
condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, 
every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of 
creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in 
the universe. (135) 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

Though Deckard initially appears to derive no benefit from this reaffirmation 
of his miserable situation, it may ultimately be the basis for his only hope. For 
this ‘curse that feeds on all life’ may also, from another perspective, be seen as 
a reflection or indicator of life’s inherent self-saving ability: the potential for 
acting against one’s nature is, even as it constitutes the mechanism of alienation, 
also the potential for overcoming mechanization, an equally fundamental 
human characteristic. Deckard must be placed in a position where his capacity 
for both is foregrounded, in order to see that he has the power to decide. In 
acknowledging that by destroying the remaining three androids he is becoming 
an instrument of destruction, he simultaneously demonstrates his underlying 
ethical nature: ‘What a job to have to do, Rick thought. I’m like a scourge, like 
famine or plague. Where I go the ancient curse follows. [...] Everything I’ve 
done has been wrong from the start’ (169). Yet even as this wrong-doing has 
become his habitual mode of existence, he now demonstrates the ability to go 
against it and give up killing. In this sense, Deckard embodies the Bergsonian 
account of the putative movement of humanity from closed to open: intelli- 
gence brings with it mechanization and the closed society, in opposition to the 
openness that is a fundamental trait of life; this mechanization becomes ossified 
as ‘human nature’, a fiction taking on such solidity that it becomes difficult to 
see it as anything but reality; thus a second stage of self-alienation is required, 
whereby the human is once again set against its basic nature, transcending the 
war-instinct through the reopening of the soul, a renewed, creative evolution 
beyond mechanization. Within an immanent ontology, ‘transcendence’ occurs 
through the dis-closure of a fictional totality. In the soteriological trajectories 
that lead in the direction of an ethical posthuman awareness, the human is 
revealed to have only ever been android, human-Zifce - and this shift implies an 
experience that would necessarily be one of both transcendence and its collapse. 


In the two novels considered in this chapter, we see Dick’s dynamic fabulation 
at work upon the traditional science fiction protagonist from two opposing 
directions: Deckard, regarding himself as ‘saved-in-advance’ and behaving, 
at least initially, like the indestructible, no-nonsense hero of an early to-mid- 
twentieth-century space opera, is set against himself, in the manner of a 
Pauline hos me (‘as not’); Joe Fernwright is presented as a near-hopeless loser 
who nevertheless is ultimately able to demonstrate something like the potential 

How We Became Post-Android 


of the saviour-hero, without losing any of his down-to-earth (and down-at- 
heel) character. In both cases, an immanentizing effect leads to the possibility 
of salvation operating with the most minimal transcendent associations, by 
a kind of division of conventional divisions between ‘saved’ and ‘doomed’ 
(or ‘damned’). The particular reality fields of both Deckard and Fernwright 
are eroded as others come into view: the saved are revealed as not-saved; the 
doomed as not-doomed. Meanwhile, a similar effect is enacted through the 
more mystical saviour-figures of the Glimmung and Mercer: someone with the 
apparent power to cheat death has been immanentized; the salvation he offers 
has been revealed as not-salvation. Yet through the working of this messianic 
tension, something remains, some intimation of immortality, pointing towards 
the capacity of even the lowliest creature - of every minimally android entity 
- for self-transcendence, for overcoming mechanization. It would be possible 
to trace this process of immanentization through almost any of Dick’s novels, 
discerning in each case the process which sees a figure with some transcendent 
status gradually having it stripped away, though without the possibility of 
salvation ever disappearing absolutely. The vehicle or establishing condition 
for this process is frequently amnesia in some form or other, along with the 
possibility of an eventual anamnesic recovery - as in Time Out of Joint (2003c 
[1959]), as we have seen, but also, for example, in the case of the gods Ormazd 
and Ahriman of The Cosmic Puppets (2006 [1957]), and the deity Yah in The 
Divine Invasion (1996 [1981]), who must forget his own identity in order to 
return to Earth in human form. In A Maze of Death (2005b [1970]), meanwhile, 
a self-induced amnesia turns out to be the basis for an artificial and temporary 
form of salvation that must be renounced by the novel’s protagonist in order for 
a saviour-figure (supposedly constructed by a computer intelligence) to emerge 
from a virtual reality and intercede in a reality beyond it. Even humans with a 
special talent for seeing the future, such as Eloyd Jones in The World Jones Made 
(1993b [1956]), Manfred Steiner in Martian Time-slip (1999a [1964]), or Dave 
Mutreauxin The Game-Players of Titan (1991b [1963]), must have these abilities 
impaired in order to have any chance of saving themselves or others. In other 
cases, as with Deckard, or Jason Taverner of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said 
(2001 [1974]), it is the protagonists’ innate superiority, their extra-ordinary 
talents and corresponding self-confidence, that must be challenged or removed, 
yet even here various forms of forgetting (or being-forgotten) play crucial roles. 
Generally, following this immanentizing process, there is a (re)discovery of 
the barely residual intimation of transcendence, of salvation. Yet even when 
this appears, it must be kept fragile and unstable, which is why Dick’s novels 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

so often seem to end with the success or survival of their main characters still 
in doubt, ft is also why, despite a propensity for re-staging major processes of 
religious (especially Christian) transcendence within science fiction contexts, 
Dick always ensures that the soteriological qualities of miraculous events are 
eroded or undermined: the transubstantiation that occurs in The Three Stigmata 
of Palmer Eldritch (2003b [1964]) becomes a ‘diabolical Eucharist’ (Dick in 
Rickman, 1988a: 149), drawing other lives into a prison of isolation constructed 
by an anti-saviour, rather than manifesting salvation in the mundane world; the 
resurrection of the Anarch Peak, the popular anti- establishment black religious 
leader in Counter-Clock World, is compromised by his assassination; and Lord 
Running-Clam, the Ganymedean slime mould of Clans of the Alphane Moon, 
despite undergoing a form of death and rebirth (from his scattered spores), 
must simultaneously lose the larger part of his former personality and memory, 
ft might have been illuminating to have explored some of these other immanent 
saviours in detail: but essentially I would have been telling the same story each 
time, and quite possibly with diminishing returns. 

Salvation in all these cases is only ever made possible through fabulation and 
counter-fabulation, through the opening of the closed. Although, as we have 
seen in both Bergson and Dick, this activity is fundamentally more than imagi- 
nation or ftctionalizing - is, rather, something more akin to Nelson Goodman’s 
‘worldmaking’, which ‘always starts from worlds already on hand: the making 
is a remaking’ (1978: 5) - nevertheless by the same token it is always capable 
of being undone, unmade. Dick’s novels are frequently viewed as unsatisfying: 
yet this may only be a reflection of his underscoring of the fragility of whatever 
hope or potential for salvation he and his characters have found in fabulation. 
For this reason, we may see it as important that Deckard is shown neither to 
attain an ultimate state of salvation, nor to undergo a complete self-transfor- 
mation. A more straightforward plot might have involved him initially treating 
androids as worthless sub-humans and gradually coming to learn, through his 
interaction with them, to treat them as equals - while they would be depicted 
as maltreated victims awaiting emancipation. Indeed, the novel’s ‘underlying 
confusion between androids as wronged lower class and as inhuman menace’ 
is what caused Darko Suvin to regard it as an ‘outright failure’ (1992: 14). Yet 
an easier, less ambiguous depiction of the androids as victims would mean 
a negation of their status as truly equal to that of humans - inserting them 
directly into the binary which Deckard, as we saw above, uses to characterize 
machines: they must be a benefit or a hazard - no middle ground, no possibility 
of representing both at once. Just like humans, androids are shown to have both 

How We Became Post-Android 


mechanizing and open tendencies, and the capacity to transcend whichever 
dominates them, a capacity which, in order to remain, must never be realized 
absolutely. They are free to move between the lower, middle and upper cosmic 
classes: the task for a posthuman ethics of openness, as for a soteriology of 
immanence, is to maintain this freedom of movement while simultaneously 
abolishing the class distinctions across which it is forced to operate. 


The Reality of Valis 

Many have tried to find ways of salvation. The reports they bring back are 
always incomplete and apt to mislead even when they are not in words but in 
music or paint. But they are by no means useless; and not the worst of them 
are those which speak of oneness with God. But in so far as we become one 
with him he becomes one with us. 

(Wisdom 1975: 177) 

For years Fvefelt I didn’t know what I was doing; 1 had to watch my activities 
and deduce, like an outsider, what I was up to. 

(Dick, E: 22) 

If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing 
mysterious or supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason our religion 
will be absurd and ridiculous. 

(Pascal 1966 [1669]: 83 [note 273]) 

Although written science fiction is a particularly effective medium for Dick’s 
fabulations, they ultimately demand to be understood as fictionalizing, reality- 
building activities which extend across psychological, political, philosophical 
and ethical registers, and refuse to be restricted to literary categories. This is why 
Dick has so much in common with Saint Paul, over and beyond their shared 
placement of love at the heart of their ethics, and their concern with seeing past 
the distorted view of the world, which comes to us darkened and fragmented as 
if in an imperfect mirror. It is the extraordinary reach of fabulation which gives 
it both a critical social value and a personal value (for Dick or anyone else) in 
terms of (immanent) salvation. Salvation is both a public and a private matter, 
concerning both the survival of the individual and that of the group or species: 
in fact, the transcending of individuating distinctions, the rediscovery of the 
potential for open morality within the closed sphere of private or local interests. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

is, as we have seen, a central concern for an immanent soteriology, as it is more 
generally for many ethical frameworks. 

The experiences of 2-3-74 should themselves be understood as fabulations: 
the beam of pink light communicating vast amounts of information, Dick’s 
experience of sharing his mind with that of another, seemingly wiser figure, the 
phrases uttered by the ‘AI voice’, the various other dreams, visions and mystical 
experiences which form the dynamic, evolving basis for the Exegesis, can be 
placed in a continuity with the fabulations constituting his written science 
fiction. Dick himself emphasizes their complementary relationship: 

I never anticipated such a tremendous payoff (breakthrough), despite the fact 
that the corpus of my writing is a map, an analysis, and a guide. The 26 years 
of writing, without 3-74, is a map of nothing, and 3-74, without the body of 
writing, is conceptually inexplicable. (E: 268) 

Yet this complementarity lies not simply in the fact that his previous writing 
and 2-3-74 can be used as lenses to better understand one another, but in that 
they share the saving function that, as we have been exploring all along, forms 
the basic context of fabulation. This is most directly recognizable in Dick’s 
frequent acknowledgements, especially in early Exegesis entries, of the beneficial, 
therapeutic effects of 2-3-74, referring to ‘the state of agitation and distress and 
perturbation I was in in 3-74 when it suddenly approached me with aid’ (E: 156), 
describing it as his ‘physisican’ (E: 195), arriving at the time of ‘the midpoint 
life-crisis (the razor’s edge Augenblick)’ (E: 204) to transform his life through a 
‘therapeutic psychosis’ (E: 242). Although he went through numerous reversals 
and reassessments of the status of the 2-3-74 experiences over the eight-year 
period leading up to his untimely death, even when he eventually came to regard 
the project of the Exegesis as ‘futile’, a ‘delusion’ and ‘a hell-chore’, he was still 
able to see it as having allowed him to find ‘a road to God’ (E: 643). Eabulations, 
as I have tried to suggest throughout this book, are no less effective for being 
conceivable as delusions, hallucinations, fictions, even with regard to experiences 
of the divine. Thus, even at a late stage in his exegetic project, Dick was stiU able to 
declare that ‘everything that has happened and that I have been shown, told, every 
revelation - it’s all one vast soteriological engine/program’ (E: 888). As Gabriel 
McKee suggests in a footnote to this entry, ‘[wjhatever the reigning theory of the 
moment, Dick is always concerned with deliverance, liberation, rescue. [. . .] The 
Exegesis is a record of a human soul in search of salvation’ (E: 888). 

Though I am concerned with the diversity of modes in which Dick addresses 
(or fabulates) Valis, this chapter focuses more attention on the novel VALIS 

The Reality of Valis 


than on the pages of the Exegesis. This is in part for the practical reason that an 
in-depth engagement with the Exegesis - 900 pages long in its recently published 
edition (which still represents only a tenth of the total material) - would be a 
challenging task for an entire book, let alone a single chapter. Nevertheless, 
it is important to read VALIS, so far as possible, in tandem with the Exegesis, 
itself a multiplicity of different fabulative strategies which may represent the 
culmination of Dick’s quest to develop an immanent soteriology. The novel 
can be considered one of Dick’s most focused attempts to draw together the 
fabulative material that had arisen through and following 2-3-74, drawing 
together several strands of soteriological thought from the Exegesis into a single, 
concentrated, self-contained fabulation. Thus on the one hand it forms a kind 
of meta-meta-(. . .)fiction, fabulating Dick’s own fabulative responses to his own 
fabulated encounter with the divine; and on the other hand, it reveals, more 
clearly than was generally possible in relation to his pre-2-3-74 work, how his 
written science fiction forms just one (albeit crucial and diversified) element 
within the broad range of forms taken by his fabulating activity. 

Over the previous chapters we have encountered a variety of different 
challenges faced by Dick’s immanent soteriology, which can generally be 
summarized in the form of pairs of seemingly contradictory imperatives. At 
root these are always tied to the basic situation which simultaneously generates 
the need for and idea of salvation - the situation in which there is no way out, 
and from which one must find a way out: I cannot avoid death, yet I must not 
die; I cannot save my friend, yet I cannot not save my friend. It is the archetypal 
situation of Gilgamesh (though the ancient Mesopotamians probably had their 
own much older archetypes).^ Fabulation is the means by which humans have 
always coped with this situation, yet in the era of mechanization, in which 
humanity’s own mechanizing tendencies become ever more explicit, many 
formerly effective such strategies are revealed as defunct. The contradictory 
imperatives producing the need for salvation are modified and take on a variety 
of new forms, which the immanent soteriologist attempts to address, and which 
shape the fabulations they produce in the process. As Dick’s fabulations become 
more overtly and self-consciously soteriological following 2-3-74, these contra- 
dictory pairs of imperatives simultaneously constrain and inspire the fabulative 
evolution of Valis. 

One of these pairs consists in the requirement that a given image, path, figure 
or logic of salvation be fabulated - invented - by the one in need of salvation, 
coupled with the condition that the saviour, or the saving effect, must be experi- 
enced as coming from ‘outside’. If the one in need of salvation were fully conscious 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

of their capacity to save themselves, either the need to be saved would disappear, 
or the fabulated means of salvation would risk losing its power. This contra- 
dictory imperative is a direct corollary of the no-way-out scenario in which a 
desperate soul refuses to accept a lack of viable options. One of the best-known 
literary depictions of this scenario is arguably the opening of The Divine Comedy 
- in which Dante (simultaneously character, narrator and author, just like Dick in 
VALIS), lost in a dark wood, is threatened by ferocious beasts on all sides, without 
hope of escape: into this scenario enters the poet-saviour, who points the way 
through a monumental fabulated construction. In a sense, this is what happens 
to Dick in 1974, as he emerges from a state of great despair with a fabulated, 
but powerful saviour-figure - though with an arduous journey through hell, 
purgatory and heaven still ahead of him. Dick himself likened Dantes ‘description 
of the ascent of the soul’ to his own post-2-3-74 experiences (E: 540; E: 541). 

Implicit within these constraints is the further condition that Dick must not 
only fabulate a saviour-figure (or several), he must also, in some sense, erase his 
own awareness of having done so. While fabulating, and indeed while increas- 
ingly recognizing the valuable effects of fabulating, he must continually ‘forget’ 
(in a special sense) the act or process of fabulation. This less overt counterpart 
to the high valuation Dick consciously places on anamnesia throughout the 
Exegesis, a form of (self-)forgetting that ‘forgets’ itself, a process that eradicates 
its own traces, is perhaps not as difficult to achieve as it may at first sound. In 
Bergson’s exemplary scene of modern fabulation from the field of psychological 
research - the woman who saved herself from falling into an open lift shaft - 
both these conditions were already fulfilled: she imagined a figure pulling her 
back from the fall that would have killed her, and responded to this figure by 
allowing herself to be flung backwards to safety. In discussing this example, as 
when accounting for the functioning of fabulation in general, Bergson posits 
that the fabulation is produced and elicits a response more quickly than the 
intellect is able to fully process it. Thus, in a sense, from the perspective of 
conscious reflection (to the extent that this corresponds to the operations of 
intellect), the saving figure, or whatever it is that is fabulated, really does come 
from outside: Bergson’s dualisms operate in the gap opened up by a Cartesian 
self astounded by events that a Spinozan framework of immanent substance 
(manifesting in different modes) renders fully plausible. 

Another such imperative whose functioning we have considered in some 
of Dick’s pre-2-3-74 novels is that any personified or apostrophized figure of 
salvation must not be all-powerful: like the Glimmung in Galactic Pot-Healer 
(2005a [1969]), or Wilbur Mercer in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 

The Reality of Valis 


(1993a [1968]), any Dickian saviour appearing to possess transcendent powers 
must have them severely impeded. Indeed, their capacity to save - even, in fact, 
or especially, to save themselves - should be radically questioned as part of this 
process. While an immanent saviour should be able to supervene obstacles that 
could not be overcome by an ordinary human being according to his or her own 
self-conception, such a figure must also not be portrayed as beyond all threat of 
destruction or failure themselves. 

All of these problematics are subsumed within the fundamental issue of 
an immanent soteriology: the question of how to save oneself. How does one 
fabulate a saviour adequate to one’s needs, create a saviour out of oneself, 
without allowing the knowledge or awareness of this process to undermine 
its effectiveness? Though this may seem like a question of the salvation of the 
individual, the logic of fabulation, as Bergson suggests, applies to any ‘self’ - an 
individual, a society, a species (perhaps even a god). In fact, the fundamental 
thrust of the dynamic activity of fabulation (as opposed to the way its products 
are subsequently intellectualized and allowed to ossify) is to refuse or negate the 
closing of such categories, both hierarchically and laterally: that is, to prevent 
the individual from conceiving itself as closed off from the society or species, 
and from other individuals; likewise to prevent the society and species from 
closing themselves off from other societies as well as other species. Indeed, 
across the Exegesis in general, it is possible to trace the emergence of something 
like a Simondonian perspective, in which forms and modes of individuation 
lead to the emergence and dissipation of various apparent entities and identities, 
individuals and transindividuals as ‘relative realities’ (Simondon 1989). Dick 
(like Bergson) continually finds both ethical and soteriological potential in the 
activity of undermining the limits and impermanence of entities, reality fields 
and moral frames otherwise taken to be objective and eternal. 

Salvator salvandus 

Much of the immanent soteriology of VALIS is deployed through a series of 
creative forms of self-splitting, which offer a variety of creative strategies for 
negotiating these contradictory imperatives. Dick finds a particularly valuable 
conceptual resource in this regard in the gnostic idea of the salvator salvandus, 
the saviour saved (or needing salvation) as elaborated by Hans Jonas: 

The fact that in the discharge of his task the eternal messenger must himself 
assume the lot of incarnation and cosmic exile, and the further fact that, at least 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

in the Iranian variety of the myth, he is in a sense identical with those he calls - 
the once lost parts of the divine self - give rise to the moving idea of the ‘saved 
saviour’ {salvator salvandus). (Jonas, quoted in VALIS, 131) 

The identity this term expresses between the saviour (salvator) and those to-be- 
saved (salvandus) can be seen as encompassing two trajectories, both of which 
would be important to the possibility of immanent salvation: the saviour is 
posited as being in need of salvation; and conversely, the one hitherto needing 
salvation is placed in the role of potential saviour. The notion of the saviour 
becoming endangered, and of those endangered becoming saviour(s), constitute 
two different stories or narratives that we have already explored in Dick’s novels. 
Yet the term salvator salvandus collapses the two into the saviour/saved couple - 
the difference in the stories being temporarily neutralized, or held, as it were, in 
a state of suspended animation, in half-life, by the substitution of grammatical 
logic for actual chronological development. 

This rendering a-temporal of what is by necessity chronological is crucial. The 
concept of salvator salvandus, if it is a concept, describes the necessary conditions 
for self-salvation - whether this takes the form of action exerted directly upon the 
individual by that same individual, or the dispersed, chain-like form we observed 
in The Man in the High Castle (1965 [1962]), whereby the possibility of the individ- 
ual’s salvation is ultimately contingent upon that individual’s salvation of another, 
who becomes a saviour in turn, and so on. in either case, the relationship between 
creator and creation (connoting simultaneously the relationships between subject 
and object, divine and human, living and non-living) is replaced by a relationship 
between creator and creator, or a dynamic, de-personalized notion of creativity 
This involves an irreducible narrative component, a change of status that must take 
place over time. Though the saving action is enacted by an individual upon him or 
herself, a virtual third party is constructed or posited (fabulated) by default if not 
by active conception, as what comes from within is experienced as coming from 
without. (Indeed, this necessary placeholder between self as subject and self as 
object maybe the most minimal form of God - convergent with the germinal form 
of technology - as a basic operation of (self-)differentiation.) This component is 
what stops a notion of self-salvation from collapsing back into a notion of self- 
preservation, which can (and archetypally does) take place in an instant. Salvator 
salvandus may thus stand as a figure for the key operation of open or dynamic 
fabulation, whereby two times, two states or two modes of existence are conflated 
without being mixed, for the purposes of determining a remnant of actual salvific 
potential that survives both the immanentization of the transcendent and the 
transcendentalizing of the immanent. 

The Reality of Valis 


The Salvator salvandus theme appears and is problematized on the first page 
of VALIS. Horselover Fat, the central character, receives a phone-call from his 
friend Gloria. She asks him for some sleeping pills to help her commit suicide. 
Fat wants to help, indeed, to save her. But what would this entail? If he tells her 
the truth - that he has no pills - she will hang up and seek them elsewhere, 
putting herself beyond his reach; if he gets hold of some pills for her, she will 
use them to kill herself Thus he decides to do neither: instead, he pretends to 
have ten, and invites Gloria over to collect them. In other words, he fabulates, 
rejecting a seemingly totalizing binary by inventing a hitherto unseen third 
path. Fat provides Gloria with a representation which will convince her to do 
that which is most likely, at least as he sees it, to keep the possibility of her 
salvation (her survival of a time of crisis) open. 

According to both his psychiatrist and the narrator. Fat’s desire to save others 
constitutes his own pathology. He needs to stop trying to save other people in 
order to save himself His awareness of this has no effect on his instinctive and 
intellectual urge to save Gloria - thus he will not, of his own volition, do what is 
necessary to save himself His salvation depends on his undertaking it without 
intellectually or consciously deciding to do so. Bergsonian fabulation has 
precisely this function - and the very personage of Horselover Fat, as we learn 
in the first few pages of the novel, is already a fabulation for just this purpose, 
being a projection of the narrator Phil Dick.^ This fabulation is, however, one 
that has been constructed long before the beginning of the narration (or, one 
might say, the process of narration, itself already a form of self-splitting, begins 
long before the novel) - even if the narrator tells us, ‘I am Horselover Fat, and I 
am writing this in the third person to gain some much needed objectivity’ (11). 
The friends of the main character(s) generally treat Fat (at least according to the 
narrator’s reports) as a separate person, accepting the character Phil Dick’s alter 
ego as one of them - except during the period near the end of the novel where 
Phil Dick becomes a single personality again. This is one among several ways 
VALIS rehearses in a less science-fictional setting the mutual contamination of 
private and shared fantasies or imaginary worlds that had characterized many of 
Dick’s earlier novels, such as Eye in the Sky (2003a [1957]), The Three Stigmata 
of Palmer Eldritch (2003b [1964]), and Ubik (2000c [1969]). 

Whatever role the fabulation of Horselover Fat is playing for the narrator, 
the novel itself, including the characters of both Horselover Fat and the narrator 
Phil Dick, taken together can be understood to be playing a similar role for 
Philip K. Dick the man. When we read the words ‘I am Horselover Fat’ there is 
no way of determining whether it is the narrator (as imagined by Dick) who is 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

writing, or Dick the author. A contiguous chain is thus highlighted between the 
narrator Phil Dick’s fabulation of himself as other than himself, in order, poten- 
tially, to save himself (from himself) - and the fabulation of Phil the narrator 
by the author Philip K. Dick the ‘real person’ (a category that increasingly loses 
any stability of meaning). 

An attempt to map the structural relations between these figures diagram- 
matically might result in a series of concentric rings which are simultaneously 
recursively linked, each contained ring also constituting a reference to or 
rehearsal of that which encloses it. These multiply infolding layers should be 
taken as amounting, deliberately or not, to a dynamic or organically evolved 
metafiction of the kind we found in The Man in the High Castle (1965 [1962]), 
once again emerging from the necessary constraints of an immanent soteriology 
(e.g. the constraint that the fabulator must obscure the full working of his own 
fabulations from himself) rather than from a premeditated engagement with 
literary convention of the type more frequently cited in literary-critical discus- 
sions of metafiction. We should note that both madness and speculative fiction 
perform the same fabulative role here, in making the subject appear other than 
itself The separation of Horselover Fat and Phil Dick (character) is both an 
element of psychological breakdown in the life of the character, and a literary 
device employed by the novel; but these two statements are effectively reversible, 
such that the character could be said to be employing a literary device while the 
novel goes through a psychological breakdown. 

In Chapter 2 we learn of Fat’s first experience of something like salvation. 
In the depicted scenario there are two saviours, one immanent and one trans- 
cendent - the difference elided by their being rolled together into a single, 
de-punctuated sentence: ‘The first thing that came along to save him took the 
form of an eighteen-year-old highschool girl living down the street from him 
and the second was God’ (18). The girl, Stephanie, who is also his dope dealer, 
leads Fat to God by creating and giving him a pot in which, the narrator claims, 
God slumbered. The actual encounter with God comes in the form of a beam 
of pink light, which blinds him for several days, but leaves him with a wealth of 
information he had not previously possessed. Yet it is Stephanie who is credited 
with being the main agent of this 2-3-74-like event, in shaping and firing the 
pot, while what God did, we are told, was ‘barely enough and virtually too late’ 
(19). The novel thus performs an immanentization of the supposedly trans- 
cendent saving power of Valis, both within the plot and, implicitly, in terms of 
Dick’s own experience of the beam of pink light, which he initially discusses in 
the Exegesis with little of the circumspection and irony exhibited by the novel’s 

The Reality of Valis 


narrator. This immanentizing effect, which as in his other novels reduces the 
figure of salvation to a bare but ineradicable minimum, in this case takes place 
very rapidly, first through the narrator s sceptical discussions of Fat’s theories and 
his ‘exegesis’, followed by an account of Fat’s own research into possible scientific 
explanations of the experience; the undercutting effect we observed in Galactic 
Pot-Healer recurs here with, for example. Fat’s discovery that the particular 
colour pink he experiences - which it is originally claimed can be generated by 
God alone (20) - turns out to be the same as the colour of a home-made laser 
beam he finds some teenagers playing with at the end of his street (21). 

The main effect of the beam of pink light is to provide Fat with new 
knowledge, some of which immediately has literally saving effects. Thus his 
experience is gnostic in at least a broad and etymological sense, bringing 
(saving) knowledge, as shown by the dia-gnosis of a life-threatening birth defect 
in his five-year-old son - an event also apparently drawn directly from Dick’s 
life.^ The fact that one of the first concrete outcomes of Fat’s/Dick’s encounter 
with God takes the form of a diagnosis is also significant in that the salvation 
which comes about through this knowledge is of the most fundamental kind - 
salvation from mortal illness, the saving of a life. 

One of the ways Dick confers a new significance on the salvator salvandus 
theme is by tying it to another idea with gnostic overtones - his theory that the 
universe is composed of information, which we humans have forgotten to read/ 
hear/understand.^ This lost access to the universe-as-information implies a loss 
of something like a primordial interconnectedness, an immanent, pre-social 
state in which everything is directly interrelated. Our inability to access the 
information of which the universe is composed, Dick/Fat suggests, renders us 
‘idiots’, in the Heraclitean (and etymological) sense which, as we have seen, was 
the basis of Dick’s distinction between the idios kosmos and the koinos kosmos: 
‘idiot’ in this sense means ‘private’, isolated from the rest of the world: ‘Each of 
us has become private, and no longer shares the common thought of the Brain, 
except at a subliminal level. Thus our real life and purpose are conducted below 
our threshold of consciousness’ (23). 

This ‘real life and purpose’ appears to correspond neither to Durkheim’s 
collective consciousness nor to the Jungian collective unconscious - being 
neither the result of social/collective living, nor of specifically human experi- 
ences, but of having access, as individuals, to the same meaning, being part of a 
common underlying reality that precedes sociality. It is closer to the continuity 
between, in Bergson’s understanding, the creative tendency in evolution and 
the joy or openness of true mysticism, which makes the latter an experience 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

of (self- transcending) immanence. The pink beam of light reconnects Dick/Fat 
with this commonality, whose prior loss Bergson identifies with the fullness of 
our past as it extends back not just to our individual births, but through history, 
species, life, ultimately to the bare materiality of the universe itself - a notion 
Gunter (1999) terms the ‘biological unconscious’.^ 

In discussing the incompleteness of the Bergsonian soteriology near the 
beginning of this book, I suggested that a problem with true mysticism as an 
adequate route to salvation is that such a connection is almost by definition incom- 
patible with the demands of everyday life - the practical conditions of survival and 
social interaction that were putatively responsible for its loss in the first place. Dick 
in his later years, and Fat in VALIS, can be seen as constantly grappling with this 
problem: how to unify the mystical gnosis, which re-activates a deep sense of one’s 
commonality with all life but is paradoxically a quintessentially private, incom- 
municable experience, with the exigencies of everyday life, which is socialized at 
every point but pathologically, mortally lacking in the more absolutely, under- 
lying commonality towards which the experience of the true mystic points? In 
fabulating a situation in which two apparently separate people (Dick and Fat) 
are, in another sense, the same being, Dick is able to stage the rediscovery of an 
underlying connectedness that had been lost according to the gnostic (but also the 
Bergsonian) mythos. As he puts it in a late Exegesis entry: ‘And this messenger, this 
Salvator salvandus, is of course who and what I saw and experienced as Valis. It is 
both my own unfaUen self, and it is the gnostic Christ’ (E: 886). 

The believer and the sceptic 

The complexity that emerges through all this multiplied self-splitting (along 
with the new possible modes of reconnection it enables) is encapsulated - and 
momentarily flattened - in the narrator’s ironic response to Fat’s idea that we 
have become separated into private, ‘idiot’ worlds: ‘Speak for yourself. Fat’ (23). 
An imagined narrator who is also the author suggests that his own alter ego 
is insane or foolish to believe that two people, such as the two of them, might 
have an underlying unity; the choice of words, ‘speak for yourself’, reinforces the 
split between them while reminding us that the speaker is in effect addressing 
himself, simultaneously supporting and contradicting his own theory. The 
primary function of this self-splitting is to allow the two opposing perspectives 
on Valis, and salvation in general, to interact and find ways to combine, without 
either undermining themselves or cancelling one another out. 

The Reality of Valis 


Thus the immanent and transcendental requirements which Dick’s immanent 
soteriology places on Valis are reflected in his division of himself into two 
personalities with divergent perspectives tending towards the credulous and 
the sceptical respectively. Whereas Horselover Fat is inclined towards trans- 
cendent interpretations of his 2-3-74 experiences, the narrator Phil Dick leans 
towards more scientiflc and rational explanations. Eventually the apparent 
mutual exclusivity of these two perspectives gives way to mutual dependence: 
full acceptance of a transcendent explanation makes its content a part of reality, 
therefore immanent; conversely, if Fat only thinks he is in touch with God, the 
question of the cause of his hallucination remains mysterious, touching on the 
other-worldly simply in its abnormality (24). 

This dramatization enables Dick to explore critically his own doubts about 
the 2-3-74 experiences, without giving up on a figure of salvation that he 
desperately needs to be real. This mirrors (or presents in microcosm) a mode 
of operation found throughout the Exegesis, where, in speculating about the 
2-3-74 experiences, Dick frequently proceeds by positing a premise, statement 
or thesis before subjecting it to a series of challenges, and/or deriving from 
it further statements, as if by deductive reason. We might refer to this as a 
process of ‘fabulous deduction’, in that the data or observations through which 
it functions are primarily ‘facts’ emerging from Dick’s own fabulated experi- 
ences. It is often driven forward by a criticism or expression of doubt regarding 
some aspect of his own interpretations of the 2-3-74 experiences - sometimes 
even through the adopted voice of a sceptical challenger or co -investigator - but 
nearly always seems ultimately to entail equal measures of new speculation or 
theoretical invention. This is epitomized by a dialogue in Folder 44 (probably 
from 1979) in which Dick’s adopted critical voice attempts to give worldly expla- 
nations for each aspect of the 2-3-74 experiences (E: 518-20). A large part of 
the exchange centres on the diagnosis of his psychological condition - on the 
implied basis that an explanation of Valis as non-transcendent must account 
for how the experiences were produced. In the course of the debate, as more 
and more diagnoses (psychodynamic, pharmacological, pscychiatric) fail to 
account for all the symptoms, or negate one another, the sceptic -voice gradually 
begins to question its own position, saying ‘It does not compute’, and the two 
become partially aligned. Interestingly, they do not then turn to the certainty of 
a transcendent explanation, but are only able to recognize the insufficiency of 
their investigation and the necessity of another: ‘This is where the inquiry has 
led. The ego could not face or solve the crisis problem because of its severity, 
fled, and in its place another self solved the problem successfully. This leads us 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

to a new frontier which is not mapped’ (E: 520). This conclusion is ambiguous, 
in that it leaves absolutely uncertain the question of whether some other entity 
entered to take over and help Dick face his ‘crisis problem’, or whether he 
fabulated this entity, in the manner in which, according to Bergson, humans 
have been doing for as long as they have been facing crises. 

Such a process can be seen to take place in VALIS, as the narrator, who seems 
continually ready to highlight elements of Fat’s unhinged mental state, opines 
that Fat only ‘imagined God had cured him’, yet nevertheless comes to accept 
that ‘in all fairness I have to admit that God - or someone calling himself God, 
a distinction of mere semantics - had fired precious information at Horselover 
Fat’s head by which their son Ghristopher’s life had been saved’ (25). The sceptic 
or doubting perspective immanentizes the transcendental elements of the 
saviour, yet by the same token allows them to be reconceived and restated on 
stronger terms following an apparently critical examination. Neither side can 
ever achieve a total domination of the other, as this would entail the abandoning 
of either critical reason or openness to the possibility of salvation. This back- 
and-forth movement is not only a general pattern underpinning Dick’s thinking 
about Valis: as he becomes aware of it, he increasingly identifies this movement 
of endless self-negation with Valis itself: ‘In my case the dialectic shows up 
by a constant thought (mental) statement generating its negation, which then 
generates its negation ad infinitum. [...] This is not a result of the dialectic 
(Valis); it is Valis; therefore I am Valis’ (E: 468). 

In the novel, the unstable polarization of Dick and Fat towards positions of 
rational scepticism (immanence) and mystical faith (transcendence) is further 
reflected in their friends David and Kevin, with whom they will later form a 
secret group (or ekklesia) called the Rhipidon Society. The group’s rambling 
theological arguments often pursue ideas to absurd extremes in a way that 
echoes the rambling dialogues of the Substance D addicts in A Scanner Darkly 
(1991c [1977]), a connection the narrator makes explicit: ‘By now the epoch 
of drug-taking had ended, and everyone had begun casting about for a new 
obsession. For us the new obsession, thanks to Fat, was theology’ (29). Fat’s 
qualified credulity with regard to Valis is shadowed by David, the devout 
Gatholic, who attributes all suffering to man’s free will and cites C. S. Fewis 
to back up his arguments. Kevin, who uses the fact that his cat was run over 
as evidence that the essence of the universe is ‘misery and hostility’, functions 
symmetrically as an extreme version of the scepticism of the narrator (and the 
character Phil Dick). As Warrick writes, the four characters ‘are best understood 
as a dramatization of the inner state of a single mind’ (1987: 171) - though 

The Reality of Valis 


this psychological interpretation is again reversible, and can be understood as 
another way in which Dick repeatedly presents actual individuals as already 
being ‘stations in a single mind’ (110).*’ 

Another, perhaps less likely parallel may be identified here between the first 
half of VALIS and David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (2007 
[1779]), which also involves three or four figures debating the existence and 
nature of God (three if we count only the philosophers Philo, Cleanthes and 
Demea, four if we include the narrator Pamphilus, who was present and gives 
us his opinions on whose arguments were strongest). While this text has often 
been taken as an implicit critical rejection of religious belief by a philosopher 
renowned for his thorough scepticism, it gives the reader no definitive reason 
to align one or other viewpoint with that of its author. Contrary to the general 
perception of his contemporaries, there is today considerable uncertainty over 
whether Hume was an atheist, with some scholars ascribing to him a theist 
position that is ‘not inconsistent with his empiricist methodology and natural- 
istic worldview’ (Andre 1993: 164). An early twentieth- century investigation of 
this possibility was made by Charles Hendel, who saw Hume’s ‘confessed’ theism 
as being justified by (rather than contrasting against) his naturalistic view of 
human life and knowledge. In this light, we can speculate that Hume wrote 
the Dialogues, just as Dick wrote VALIS, in order to explore his questions and 
uncertainties regarding religion: ‘He had convictions and he had his doubts. His 
writing of them took the form of personal conversation’ (Hendel 1925: 2). We 
have already encountered Dick’s unconventional relationship to causality, which 
amounts not just to the Humean problem of its logical justification, but to a 
professed inability to perceive or grasp causal relations. In a sense, Dick begins 
with the view of acausal reality that Quentin Meillassoux (2008: 82-111 and 
passim) arrives at through a speculative response to Hume, in which the impos- 
sibility of proving the necessity of natural laws becomes simply a reflection of 
their non-necessity (rather than of the limits of human understanding). Dick 
effectively remains on the side of Hume in accepting that the lack of logical (or, 
in Dick’s case, perceived) necessity does not preclude the possibility of there 
being a natural necessity for causality. However, whereas Hume holds on to 
a putative natural causality that would correspond more or less to the mind’s 
expectations, Dick takes a step towards a speculative materialism in endlessly 
seeking out, or inventing and giving equal credence to, alternative, non-linear 
forms of causality that might account for the world’s strange appearance (to 
him) at any particular moment. In this sense, Hendel’s description of Hume’s 
Dialogues as a set of discussions comprising an ‘implicit testimony to a natural 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

religion in the very search for its meaning’ (1925: 308) might equally be applied 
to VALIS, and perhaps even more so, the Exegesis; for the latter, it could be 
argued, constructs the very forms of divinity, salvation and religion it is looking 
for, even in the process of searching for them - though without ever coming to 
rest on a single version. 

Just as neither Dick’s nor Fat’s position can fully subsume that of the other, 
neither David’s view of Fat’s God as a transcendent saviour, nor Kevin’s view 
that he is entirely a product of Fat’s insanity, is entirely sustainable. While Kevin 
repeatedly highlights the inconsistency of a God who saves and condemns 
abitrarily - ‘so God saved your son’s life; why didn’t he have my cat run out into 
the street five seconds later?’ (26) - his own position is equally fraught with 
contradiction. Kevin is so passionately anti-God that he cannot help positing 
the existence of a deity figure in order to blame it for being ‘evil, dumb and 
weak’ (27), even as he wants to argue against this figure’s existence. As he writes 
everything the group discusses down in his journal as potentially useful inves- 
tigative (exegetical) material, it is as though Dick/Fat’s polarized self-division is 
maintained by the gravitational pull of the two extremes represented by David 
and Kevin. It would be tempting to suspect, with Michael Feehan (1995), that 
the origin of Dick’s interest in split subjects, doubling or reduplication, derives 
from an obsession with his lost twin sister Jane, who died when he was only a 
few months old (such is in fact the eventual conclusion of Dick’s staged dialogue 
with himself in Folder 44 of the Exegesis, cited above). Certainly, a sense of a 
lost ‘other half’ seems to have played a significant role in his psychological and 
emotional difficulties throughout his life, and shows up repeatedly in his novels 
- perhaps most strikingly in the character of Edie Keller in Dr Bloodmoney 
(2000a [1965]), who carries her half-dead twin brother within her body and 
maintains telepathic (or rather p/esiopathic) contact with him. Dick frequently 
embeds his instances of twinning within religious or mythic scenarios, as with 
the twin Zoroastrian gods Ahriman and Ormazd who start out as a young 
boy and girl in Dick’s early novel The Cosmic Puppets (2006 [1957]), the twin 
male and female halves of the Godhead that have become separated in The 
Divine Invasion (1996 [1981]), the Glimmung and his female counterpart, 
recovered at the end of Galactic Pot-Healer, and the twin hyperuniverses I and 
II in the Two Source Cosmogony at the end of VALIS. Hence in reference to 
an entry in the Exegesis describing the experience of World as the attempt at 
recollection of a lost, dead twin, the narrator states: ‘If, in reading this, you 
cannot see that Fat is writing about himself, then you understand nothing’ (37). 

Pointing to a psychological basis or source for a recurrent trait in someone’s 

The Reality of Valis 


character or thought does not exhaust or even explain the significance of that 
trait. The experience of the loss of his twin, or more likely, the experience of 
speculating throughout his life on the possible effects of this loss, becomes the 
material out of which an array of fabulations and fabulative strategies develop. 
Whatever the reasons for the entry of twinning or reduplication as a motif 
into his work, Dick finds in it a transformative and soteriological potential 
that through fiction far exceeds the reach of psychological or psychoanalytic 
explanations of its origin, leading him to employ it as part of a wide-ranging, 
continually redoubling fabulative strategy. 

The pharmakonic god 

The association of God with drugs, prefigured in Palmer Eldritch, is one of the 
recurring themes of both the Exegesis and VALIS. The connection lies partly 
in their shared status as causes and objects of addiction; but it is also in the 
way God becomes pharmakonic, in Derrida’s sense, as simultaneously holding 
the potential to function as both poison and cure: ‘there is no such thing as 
a harmless remedy. The pharmakon can never be simply beneficial’ (Derrida, 
1981: 99). By the same token, neither can we ever be sure the effects of a 
supposed poison are entirely negative. Even Palmer Eldritch, effectively an ‘anti- 
saviour’ who uses drugs to entrap users in a kind of purgatorial virtual state, is 
perceived by one of his ‘victims’ as possessing ‘a vast, reliable wisdom’ derived 
from the accumulated experience of having lived many lives (2003b: 212). 

Eor the narrator of VALIS, drugs are - or were, in what he calls ‘the dope 
decade’ - both the solution to and the cause of life’s problems, sometimes 
literally, sometimes metaphorically. The memorial list of the ‘people who were 
punished entirely too much for what they did’ at the end of A Scanner Darkly 
(1991c: 276-8) testifies to Dick’s experience of the destructive effects of drugs. 
Yet as that novel suggested, through the figure of another split character who 
was both narcotics agent and the drug dealer he was investigating, and as the 
narrator of VALIS explains, those trying to police the drugs, the ‘authorities’, 
were at least as deranged as the drug-takers: ‘This time in America [...] was 
totally fucked. [...] The authorities became as psychotic as those they hunted’ 
(11). The narrator gives an example in which those authorities created mayhem 
with the local infrastructure - disrupting the very order they exist to preserve - 
in order to ‘baffle radicals who might intend trouble. The elevators got unwired; 
doors got relabeled with spurious information; the district attorney hid’ (12). 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

In a strange parallel to the police investigator who must behave psychoti- 
cally, there is a strong suggestion in VALIS that, in order to have any chance of 
being useful in terms of something like salvation, God, must become in some 
sense the problem. This can be viewed as another means of enabling a process 
of immanentization. Hence God becomes the source of Fat’s mental illness, as 
drugs supposedly had been previously - even as ultimately there is hope that 
God may be the cure. What is required to prevent God from failing in effectively 
the same way as the Californian policing authorities or Bob Arctor is that the 
saviour become the one in need of salvation without wholly losing his/her trans- 
cendent qualities: this would enable compatibility/interaction between salvator 
and salvandus (saviour and to-be-saved), while maintaining the potential 
salvific value of such interaction; simultaneously, it makes it possible for the 
ones-to-be-saved to identify with the saviour-figure who seems immanent 
within their reality, yet with residual intimations of transcendence, pointing to 
the potential for self-transformation. 

The flawed or ambiguous nature of the ‘God’ that Fat encounters is empha- 
sized in its failure to prevent his attempt to kill himself: 

Either he had seen God too soon or he had seen him too late. In any case, it had 
done him no good at all in terms of survival. Encountering the living God had 
not helped to equip him for the tasks of ordinary endurance, which ordinary 
men, not so favored, handle. (46) 

The question of why God allows (or fails to prevent) suffering, versions of which 
have been central to numerous theological enquiries and atheist critiques of 
religion, challenges the believer and/or theologian to find an alternative to the 
seemingly exhaustive choice between his being either fallible, (tolerant of) evil, 
or non-existent. If the value of God is to be preserved for soteriology, fabulation 
must develop reasons for maintaining faith in the face of such charges as Kevin’s 
‘how does God account for my dead cat?’ This may be one reason so much of the 
teaching and study of religion draws on stories: the problem of evil, or suffering, 
never goes away, and must be repeatedly addressed in new and inventive ways. 
It may also hint at why various modern philosophers’ responses to the problem 
continue to employ fabulative elements. Leibniz, for example, like Dick, finds 
it necessary to imagine other possible worlds in order to account for the 
problem of evil and suffering. For Pascal, the potential benefits of belief in God 
outweigh the potential losses should such belief later turn out to be misplaced, 
while comparatively little is to be gained from taking an atheist position (1966: 
150-1). Kant, by a different argument, similarly suggests that practical morality 

The Reality of Valis 


requires that we ‘postulate the existence of God’ (1997 [1788]: 104) while 
accepting that, purely from the perspective of theoretical reason, this ‘presup- 
position of a supreme intelligence’ will remain a ’hypothesis’ (1997: 105). These 
and similar arguments end up rationally advocating fabulation: both Pascal and 
Kant are effectively suggesting that we should act as if that which has no obvious 
or intellectually measureable manifestation in reality (God) were fully real. Yet 
what Dick’s immanentizing of God draws our attention to is the possibihty that, 
more than just being the effect of a compromise between traditional religious 
belief and modern rationalism, the becoming-immanent of God, whether a 
process dramatized through myth or science fiction, or an effect produced 
through critical argument and scepticism, may always-already constitute the 
means by which the potential for salvation arises from the divine. 

For this reason, Dick cannot allow himself to imagine or conceive the 
saviour-figure he and Fat encounter as absolutely real, or absolutely ‘here’, any 
more than he can accept its disappearance. A punctual, ever-present God, 
however well fabulated, ought to result in Fat’s absolute salvation, and finding 
himself in a less-than-blissful state after the encounter would undermine the 
fabulation. Indeed, it seems likely from all that we know of Dick’s life that 
nothing short of the impossible restoration of his lost twin Jane - coupled with 
something approaching an end to human suffering in general - would suffice 
to allow him to consider himself absolutely saved. On the other hand, giving up 
on Valis entirely would mean accepting himself and the world as being beyond 
salvation. These exigencies can be understood as already determining the nature 
of Valis, both as it was fabulated by Dick for himself in the mode of immediate 
experience, and as it was allowed to grow through the pages of the Exegesis and 
VALIS. In writing the novel, Dick articulates - though only through the lens of 
a fictional narrative - this truth which he cannot conceal from himself and yet 
cannot allow himself to absolutely accept - that he has created, fabulated Valis 
to save himself: 

that which came to my rescue in 2-3-74, that supernatural entity Zebra, was 
me; and Thomas was me, and only when I actually understand (and experience 
this as real) will I really have the answer - but I have not yet reached that point. 

It is still impossible for me to grasp the AI voice as my own, true, secret voice. 

(E: 333) 

In terms of the logic of fabulation then, it is necessary for God to arrive virtually 
too soon or too late - as the narrator puts it, God did not arrive at the eleventh 
hour, but ‘waited until three minutes before twelve’. This may be how fabulation 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

always works - by finding a moment in between the last moment and the end 
- which is to say, in the interval between the last moment the intellect is able to 
register and the event of destruction to be averted (or the moment at which such 
destruction becomes irreversible). The woman approaching the empty lift shaft 
in Bergson’s example of the modern psychological working of fabulation felt 
she was seized and thrown back before she could think to verify the existence 
or not of the lift operator. Her saviour did not exist, but because she could not 
intellectually work this out before he affected her, she was still saved. Thus 
when Fat attests to ‘the wisdom of my body, which knew not only to defend 
itself from my mind but specifically how to defend itself’ (45) we may detect 
hints at the continuity between instinctive physical (re)actions (vomiting up the 
digitalis he has overdosed on, his heart’s ability to overcome arrhythmia), and 
the fabulated encounters with God that have come to perform a wider range of 
saving functions in his life. 

In these senses, an immanent saviour, perhaps any viable notion of salvation, 
must be pharmakonic. It must therefore be constantly attended to, reformed, 
re-imagined - subject to, if not identical with, a dynamic fabulating activity, 
rather than ossifying into a static, fabulated form. We have seen in a variety of 
ways through both Bergson and Dick how each of the fabulations that prevent 
society from being destroyed by the anti-social, mechanizing intellect can in 
turn become a mechanizing destructive force, requiring further singular acts 
of creativity to continually invent new modes of salvation: Perky Pat, already 
a fragile substitute for a lonely existence, is never far from turning into Palmer 
Eldritch.^ Dick’s fabulation of Valis as recounted and continued through the 
Exegesis, redoubled and reworked in the novel VALIS, illustrates with great 
intensity this ongoing struggle to maintain a dynamic mode of fabulation 
against the constant risk of reverting to mechanization and closure. 

Reduplicative paramnesia (time becomes space) 

We have seen how the two stories or trajectories encapsulated in the salvator 
salvandus figure can be understood as the key(s) to a possibility of immanent 
salvation through dynamic fabulation: the saviour becomes the one in need 
of salvation, moving from transcendent to immanent status, while those 
in need of salvation take up the position of potential saviour with regard 
to others or themselves. In every form, a self-splitting is involved, whereby 
the individual becomes both subject and object, different from him/her/ 

The Reality of Valis 


itself while still identifying with this other. An impossibility is made possible 
through fabulation. This scenario, in which two incompatible entities or realms 
(immanent and transcendent, saviour and to-be-saved, present crisis and future 
salvation) are able to co-exist or at least simultaneously appear, is formally and 
thematically comparable to the messianic time described by Agamben. As we 
have seen, in Agamben’s Pauline-Benjaminian figure of ‘the time of the end’, 
the state of worldly crisis and transcendent state of salvation are superimposed, 
such that transformation of the present becomes a real - i.e. first conceivable, 
then potentially material - possibility. The significance of another of VALIS’s 
key motifs - expressed in the refrain, ‘here time turns into space’ (40) - may be 
understood in terms of this operation. 

This line from Wagner’s Parsifal is spoken by Gurnemanz to Parsifal, when 
the forest landscape in which they are standing fades out to be replaced by a 
wall of rock, and for a moment (at least as Dick envisaged it) the two distinct 
places are superimposed. Levi-Strauss has referred to this moment in Wagner 
as ‘probably the most profound definition that anyone has ever offered for 
myth’ (1985: 219). What is normally possible only in a temporal sequence - a 
body occupying different places, different states, a person becoming someone 
quite different - fabulation makes possible in space: indeed, dramatic art, and 
arguably storytelling in general, fundamentally depend on it. 

But the scene also mirrors Dick’s own experience of existing simultaneously in 
two locales, ancient Rome and present-day California, which was a spur for the 
investigation of fabulation in Saint Paul earlier in this book. The phenomenon 
whereby an individual experiences another environment superimposed on the 
one they physically inhabit is actually a recognized neurological condition. It is 
referred to in neuropsychology as ‘reduplicative paramnesia’, a term coined by 
Arnold Pick (1903). In documented cases, the ‘imaginary’ spatial environment, 
belonging only to the individual’s experience, which overlays the environment 
perceived by everyone else, is frequently one which the subject has previously 
experienced. The condition can thus be considered a psychological mechanism 
whereby what is literally possible only temporally (existing in two places) 
is transmuted by the use of something like fabulation into a spatial mode. 
Unsurprisingly, since this and other so-called misidentification syndromes are 
generally found to be the result of some form of brain injury, such conditions 
are treated as disorders or deficiencies. Yet in the light of the positive effects of 
fabulation, and of the effects of such experience on Dick, we may ask whether 
such ‘delusions’ may not be performing a valuable, positive role in terms of an 
individual’s ability to endure an otherwise unacceptable reality. Dick himself 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

suggested something along these lines in a 1964 essay, arguing that ‘the sane 
man does not know that everything is possible’ and that someone with a mental 
illness may simply be someone who ‘at one time or another knew too much’ 
(1995: 174). For Bergson, likewise, ‘[m]ental imbalance [...] is frequently [...] 
an excess of mental power rather than a deficiency: the usual restrictive role 
of the brain has been weakened to allow a greater degree of consciousness to 
flood the subject’ (Mullarkey 1999: 101). This does not mean that the psychotic 
or otherwise mentally abnormal patient is automatically better off, but it does 
point to the great therapeutic and even socio-political potential in so-called 
delusional (or, equally, ‘mystical’) states, which Dick was arguably engaged in a 
constant struggle to optimize from his 2-3-74 experiences onwards. 

Dick was well aware that this effect of reduplicative paramnesia had appeared 
in several of his novels (though for once he appears not to have come across the 
relevant Encyclopedia Britannica that would have allowed him to so name it): 

Eye, Joint, 3 Stigmata, Ubik and Maze are the same novel written over and over 
again. The characters are all out cold and lying around together on the floor 
mass hallucinating a world. Why have I written this up at least five times? 

Because - as I discovered in 3-74 when I experienced anamnesis, remem- 
bered I’m really an apostolic Christian, and saw ancient Rome - this is our 
condition: we’re mass hallucinating this 1970s world. (E: 337) 

In the narrative examples Dick refers to here, where one spatial environment 
was superimposed over another, the hallucinated world was a kind of trap, 
a maze dominated by an insane deity or malicious force - even if they were 
initiated out of some beneficial intent. Salvation lay in escaping or finding the 
way out of the hallucinated prison. After 2-3-74, however, when Dick addresses 
this scenario, the maze itself is reduplicated, transformed into something else, 
such that the notion of ‘time becoming space’, the basis for the hallucinatory 
prison, also becomes the means of its transformation. When the Parsifal phrase 
is first cited in VALIS, the narrator prefaces it by saying, ‘there is no route out 
of the maze. The maze shifts as you move through it, because it is alive’ (40). 
However, as he reflects on the notion, it is increasingly associated with Fat’s 
mystical encounters with Valis - a figure who, he understands, in order to 
replace the maze with another reality, must first become it. 

Here Dick appears to be blending together the Christian notion of transub- 
stantiation and another central gnostic idea, whose modern significance had 
been explored by Hans Jonas in The Gnostic Religion (1958). According to this 
particular version of gnosticism, the universe as we experience it, the material 

The Reality of Valis 


world, is a sort of prison for humanity, created and ruled over by powers of a 
lower order than the true God. These lower powers, the Archons, and/or their 
leader, who ‘is often painted with the distorted features of the Old Testament 
God’ (Jonas 1958: 44), keep humans trapped in the maze, separated from the 
true divinity, with whom they were originally one. The true (alien) God who 
must find a way back into this world, bypassing the Archon guards, is central 
to the plot of The Divine Invasion, written directly following VALIS. Yet such 
a process, frequently discussed in the Exegesis, is already operative in VALIS, 
where Valis - sometimes referred to in such contexts as Zebra - is presented as 
first masquerading as part of the visible world, mimicking or camouflaging itself 
beneath apparent reality, before actually becoming that world, or rather, trans- 
forming it into him. The present material of the world is rendered, in a sense, 
dynamic, self-differentiating, temporally intensive at every point in its spatial 
extension: ‘We are being processed along, and as we go we are changed and 
informed; there is no ontology for us, no concrete being - it is all, as Bergson 
saw, a becoming. We are, in a way, passing through a Gosmic Car-Wash’ (E: 72). 

The notion of time turning into space is associated first with the insane 
Mind, and then with the true God, within a few pages of VALIS. This idea 
and its signifying phrase remain fixed, while their significance or associative 
context is wholly altered, just as the landscape transforms itself around Parsifal 
and Gurnemanz while they stand still in what is simultaneously a pragmatic 
piece of stagecraft and a magical transformation. Athough the idea constitutes a 
particular trope figuring the structural requirements of a fabulation that would 
make immanent salvation possible, it is the way it is deployed that exemplifies 
this capability. We have seen this throughout Dick’s work, as he depicts and 
explores a multiplicity of fabulative strategies, from Preston’s writings about 
Flame Disc to Hawthorne Abendsen’s The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, from Ragle 
Gumm’s artificial 1950s idyll to the computer-generated worlds of A Maze of 
Death; not to mention the diabolical forms of fabulation deliberately targeting 
closure, such as the hallucinatory effects of Palmer Eldritch’s Chew-Z, or the 
Book of the Kalends in Galactic Pot-Healer. In these and other cases, the novels 
themselves work to develop their own mode of fabulation as they test the 
examples they imagine, probing various models of fabulation for their potential 
and their inadequacies. Always at stake in this testing is the question of how 
successfully a given form or mode of fabulation is able to break down (or further 
divide) the immanence/transcendence division, whether this is manifest in the 
form of the separation between human and machine, present suffering and 
promised future redemption, worlds within and outside the diegetic boundary. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

or the saviour and the one in need of salvation. In every case, fabulations which 
had come to be understood as ‘reality’, that is, which had become most static, 
are rendered dynamic, transformative and open to transformation, once again. 

Dick’s concerns with the artificiality of apparent reality and the importance 
of its transformation are intrinsically proto-political, proto-ethical, proto- 
ecological - even when he is most focused on (and submerged within) his own 
psychological needs and his personal relationship with Valis. It is no surprise 
to find, for example, towards the end of the Exegesis, suggestions that the crisis 
which Valis, along with putative future saviour-figures (such as the one he 
refers to as ‘Tagore’) are required to address is that of ecological or environ- 
mental disaster arising from human mechanization. Humanity is destroying 
itself - and must therefore do something to save itself from itself The process 
of its self-destruction takes place over time - the actions of a present ‘self’ are 
closing off its future existence, which amounts to destroying a future version 
of itself; therefore the present self can live under the illusion - which seems to 
be a rational observation - that it is not destroying itself its destruction being 
deferred on to an as-yet non-existent future version of itself In order for this self 
(which may be either an individual or humanity as a whole) to clearly perceive 
what is happening, time must be made into space - in the specific sense encap- 
sulated by the Parsifal reference (but also in the manner of the messianic time of 
Paul, Benjamin, Agamben), whereby two radically segregated times are super- 
imposed, the future upon the present. It is insufficient for this to take the form 
of a warning, or a prophecy, which (unless articulated by a particularly powerful 
storyteller) maintain the radical separation between present and distant future. 
The superposition can take place only through fabulation, through the bringing 
of the future or the past into the present, as the fantastical becomes reality: the 
eclipse must be experienced first as impossible, then possible, and finally as 
both at once. As Fat says of the early Christian whose thoughts he hears after 
2-3-74, Thomas is not communicating across time to 1960s California, but 
‘living in ancient Rome now’ (109). If the fabulation is successful, not only does 
self-destruction acquire the character of actuality for the present self the crisis 
being recognized as reality, but the possibility of self-transformation - or self- 
salvation - also appears as a part of the emergent reality field. 

Bergson’s understanding of the mechanization of life as the crisis of modern 
humanity comes at the end of a lifetime’s investigation of the relationships 
between ontology, psychology, biology and ethics, one whose roots, and conti- 
nuity, can be traced back to his early analysis and critique of the human 
tendency to spatialize time. Having considered Dick through a Bergsonian lens. 

The Reality of Valis 


by using VALIS in turn to take a refractory glance back at Bergson, we glimpse 
the possibility of salvation from the modern crisis whose analysis is the culmi- 
nation of his work, exactly where he began - where time becomes space. 

The fabulative cure 

The pharmakonic nature of Valis is reflected in the social mechanisms which 
exist to save Fat and others like him from psychological collapse. Following a 
failed suicide attempt, he is incarcerated in a psychiatric institution against his 
will - and billed for it, which will eventually add to his despair, since if he cannot 
pay he is in danger of being locked up again, as a criminal (50-1). In this self- 
perpetuating cycle, whereby the system reproduces that which it is intended to 
treat, ‘the remedy is here but so is the malady’ (72). 

Fat is, however, offered a more effective saving strategy in this context, at the 
hands of his psychiatrist Dr Stone, who gets him to discuss the cosmological 
statements in his Exegesis, rather than treating these and his visions as symptoms 
of madness that must be exorcized. A particular statement Fat makes during 
these discussions is that time does not exist, an echo of the Parsifal refrain. Fat 
suggests that this is a hermetic secret that has been known to a privileged line of 
thinkers, including Apollonius, Saint Paul, Simon Magus, Paracelsus, Boehme 
and Giordano Bruno. Far from setting Dick (or Fat) at odds with a crucial facet 
of Bergsonian ontology, this can be read as an echo of Bergson’s critical account 
of the habitual understanding of time, that is, of ‘clock-time’, the measured time 
of the intellect and of time-keeping mechanisms, which he sees as a spatialized 
representation of time rather than time itself Deleuze (1991: 114) similarly 
observes that the non-existence of time for the Freudian unconscious does not 
mark an incompatibihty with Bergson, but rather a potential affinity.® 

In a more developed sense, it can be argued that time and space really do 
cease to have the status of separate categories in Bergson’s ontology - the words 
being retained for the purposes of explanation, but effectively used as if under 
erasure. As Frederic Worms puts it, matter and mind in Bergson ultimately turn 
out to be ‘two degrees of the same activity: tension in time and extension in the 
extended, or in other words, duration in general’ (1999: 90). Bergson replaces 
the dualism of time and space with something like the proposition: matter 
endures. Time would then be something like pure spirit, without substance, and 
space something like inert matter without motion or force. Neither can exist 
independently of the other, hence the materiality of spirit and the spirituality of 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

matter. In this sense, Fat’s experience is quite Bergsonian: ‘space and time were 
revealed to Fat - and to Thomas! - as mere mechanisms of separation’ (110). 

Nevertheless, Fat seems to be getting at something more than an ontological 
statement when he tells his psychiatrist that time does not exist. This hermetic 
‘secret’ also forms part of an elaborate fabulation.^ In discussion with Stone, Fat 
quotes frequently from his Exegesis, explaining that he has been contacted by 
a being from another star system that is the Logos and which had slumbered 
at Nag Hammadi untU its rediscovery; in the process, he mixes in references to 
Xenophanes, yin and yang, and the Dogon people of Sudan - whose mytho- 
logical egg Deleuze and Guattari use to illustrate their ‘body without organs’ in 
A Thousand Plateaus (1988 [1980]). More telling than the contents, however, is 
the facility with which Fat adapts his interpretation in line with both questions 
and new information brought to his attention by Dr Stone. It is as though 
any experience or piece of information could form a new and relevant part 
of the puzzle he is simultaneously trying to construct and solve. Fabulated or 
gathered ‘facts’ form the basis for intellectual chains of reasoning, which evolve 
in a particular direction until they run into contradictions or dissatisfying 
conclusions. At such moments, new ‘facts’ are brought in to allow the chain of 
deductions to set off again in a new direction. The conversations between Fat 
and Dr Stone in VALIS thus echo Dick’s conversations with himself regarding 
2-3-74 in the Exegesis, following the same (il)logic of fabulous deduction. 
Their reproduction in a mental health framework simultaneously highlights 
Dick’s awareness of how insane he must look to most outsiders, and his need 
to continue pursuing, developing his fabulations with the help of endlessly 
generated external figures and voices. As Pamela Jackson suggests, the Exegesis 
is ‘a mishmash of external voices’ (E: 63, note) - though these are held together, 
constantly and creatively re-arranged by Dick’s relentless, dynamic fabulating, 
which continually brings out of them new theories and scenarios: Jackson also 
notes (E: 134) the extent to which Dick would physically rearrange the pages of 
the Exegesis. VALIS forms not only another means of extending this process, but 
also folds it in on itself by representing it and continuing it at the same time. 

Dr Stone can be regarded as another one of Dick’s endlessly multiplying (or 
self- splitting) invented voices, another fictionalized means of splitting from 
himself in order to observe himself as if from the outside. Yet within the diegesis 
of the novel, however unstable the boundaries of its reality field may be. Stone 
plays the role of saviour-figure, contrasting against the more authoritarian mode 
of psychiatric management which threatens to send Eat into a spiral of despair 
and whose ‘therapeutic’ methods supposedly drove his friend Sherri to suicide. 

The Reality of Valis 


(The aggressive, destructive side of psychiatric ‘care’ is epitomized by the angry, 
impatient Maurice - a psychiatrist and former assassin - who is infuriated by 
Fat’s schizo-theological ramblings.) 

Wfiat makes Stone’s treatment restorative is that he takes Fat’s fabulations 
seriously, encouraging his theorizing and fuelling it with new material, rather 
than attempting to cure him of it: ‘He adapted his therapy to the individual, not 
the individual to his therapy’ (65). Stone even goes so far as to acquire for his 
patient a typescript of a recent translation of one of the Nag Hammadi texts 
(unpublished at the time the novel is set), privately from the translator.^ This 
provides Fat with yet more material upon which to work his fabulous deduction, 
seeming to offer both external verification for certain aspects of the 2-3-74 
experiences, and new information for its further interpretation. In developing 
this interpretation. Fat constructs what he needs in order to feel well again: 
‘Stone had saved him. [...] Whether the content of Stone’s information was 
correct was not important; his purpose from the beginning had been to restore 
Fat’s faith in himself’ (65). 

Stone’s method reflects an understanding of the power of fabulation, as 
well as the pharmakonic nature of all fabulations, which requires that they 
be handled with delicacy. Accordingly, his approach is to help the conditions 
emerge in which Fat will develop the fabulations he needs to save himself The 
therapy culminates in something like the magical-performative speech act 
Agamben associates with messianism or faith, and which would be one source 
of fabulations saving power. The narrator expresses the belief that there is a 
series of words specific to each person that has the power to heal that person, 
and that Stone had found the words specific to Fat: ‘In that simple sentence, 
“You’re the authority,” Stone had given Fat back his soul’ (66). Stone, previ- 
ously the holder of authority, associated with Fat’s extended incarceration, has 
in fact set him free, and at the same time conferred authority upon him: Fat 
has become the authority over himself, thus free of authority - literally auto- 
nomous, in a Pauline fulfilling and ending of the Law. 

With Dr Stone having temporarily taken on the mantle of saviour-figure, for 
a while he becomes the focus of the ongoing immanence/transcendence debate 
between Dick and Fat (or narrator and character). Fat attributes a ‘paranormal’ 
capacity to Stone’s use of Bach herbal flower remedies and describes him as 
a god or a partial manifestation of God, while the narrator simply sees him 
as a very talented psychiatrist using the Bach remedies as ‘a palpable hoax, a 
pre-text to listen to the patient’ (65). In dealing with both Valis and Stone, the 
point on which Dick and Fat seem most in agreement is that the beneficial (as 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

well as the detrimental) effects of experiencing the saviour at times render the 
distinction between immanence and transcendence practically insignificant. At 
such moments, the narrators scepticism threatens to blend into Fat’s credulity 
- for example, in their responses to the fact that the gnostic text selected by Dr 
Stone includes a reference to pottery. ‘How’, the narrator asks, ‘had he known 
the significance of pot and potter to Fat?’ (67). While not going quite as far as 
Fat, who sees this as further evidence that Stone ‘was a micro-form of God’ (67), 
the narrator avers that at least ‘Stone would have to be telepathic’ to know that 
Fat associated pots with divinity. Yet there are quite straightforward immanent 
explanations that neither raises - such as the possibility that Stone could have 
read one of Dick’s novels (there are plenty of references in the novel to the fact 
that he is a science fiction writer), such as Galactic Pot-Healer (2005a [1969]) 
or Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (2001 [1974]), both of which associate 
pottery with a divine power of salvation and healing. 

Despite such convergences, the question of transcendent and immanent 
explanations is not permitted a resolution into an either/or. But nor is it, for that 
matter, in any simple sense a question of both/ and. Rather, the possibility of its 
resolution must be held open, never achieved, yet never abandoned. Fat himself 
is held in such a state of suspension, having undergone (through his suicide 
attempt and subsequent recovery with Stone’s help) a sort of resurrection that 
is not quite divine, but not completely without intimations of transcendence, 
even if these belong only to the experience of coming close to death: ‘Fat had to 
die, or nearly die, in order to be cured. Or nearly cured’ (66). The unresolvable 
nature of the question of divinity, the impossibility of either the immanent or 
the transcendent account of religious phenomena banishing the other, seems 
to be at the core of Horselover Fat’s pathology. Yet central to the logic of the 
implicit soteriology of VALIS is that it constructs or reveals this apparently 
insurmountable obstacle as an essential strength. This is not in the mode of the 
theologian who makes the unknowability of God a necessary requirement for 
true faith. Rather, it is a response to the impossibility - and ultimate undesir- 
ability - of absolute (transcendent) salvation. In both the Christian logic of 
Judgement and the medical logic of crisis, the soul, the body, the subject, is 
held at the point of discernment (crisis-point) between two paths appearing as 
mutually exclusive and totalizing: salvation or damnation, recovery or death." 
Where the perceived impossibility of salvation seems to herald an inevitable 
collapse into death, the Dickian open or dynamic tabulation finds or creates 
another possibility within this dichotomy, not simply carving out a space for 
a previously excluded middle, but introducing a ‘division within the division’. 

The Reality of Valis 


Between saved and damned, cured and mortally wounded, there is the division 
between the almost-cured and the almost-lost, which opens up the potential 
for saving and becoming-saved as processes rather than accomplished events or 
future-oriented fantasies. 

Recursion: Valis as limitlessly iterative soteriology 

In the more autobiographical first half of VALIS, which has been my primary 
focus here. Fat’s fabulative attempts at self-salvation can be considered 
convergent with Dick’s. In the second half, the fabulating shifts into a more 
speculative or science-fictional mode - though one which, especially towards 
the novel’s close, continues to pursue soteriological ends. Importantly, this shift 
allows Dick to reconnect the fabulative approach to salvation developed thus 
far in a private psychological and bodily register with the other major challenge 
for an immanent soteriology - the problem of avoiding reversion to closure at 
the social and biological levels. It also illustrates a key, recurrent (and recursive) 
aspect of Dick’s fabulation in general. 

The reader may well have the growing feeling by the middle third of the novel 
that something has to give in all this theological-psychological speculation. 
The chain of fabulative deduction is straining: one or either of the two broad 
categories of explanation of Fat’s experiences - that he is being contacted by a 
transcendent God, or that he is simply insane - needs a new order of confir- 
mation. Just as the reader of the Exegesis may get the sense that Dick undertakes 
the writing of VALIS to give new impetus to his exegetic endeavour - draft 
early pages of the novel, as Jackson notes (E: 451, note), are included among the 
papers of the Exegesis as if part of it, yet this necessarily produces a dramatic 
shift in voice and tone - here the novelistic narrativization of the 2-3-74 experi- 
ences seems as though it may be about to stall in turn, as its characters find 
themselves going round in circles in their search for answers. 

It seems that every time a particular fabulation of Valis threatens to run out 
of steam, Dick fabulates it again, in a new way which overcomes or escapes 
whatever insufficient element had become most visible. If, prior to 2-3-74, 
his science fiction offered the opportunity to repeatedly create new versions 
of the saviour and new modes of salvation, we might speculate that over time, 
the unavoidable fictionality of these saviour-figures rendered them increasingly 
inadequate for his soteriological needs, even as he became more dependent on 
his fabulating in his pursuit of personal salvation. The experiences of 2-3-74 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

might then be understood as fabulations of a new order, in which Dick was 
able to conceal his own productive role in the construction (or fictionalization) 
of the saviour-figure from himself - giving it a new air of reality. This pattern 
recurs, almost fractally, at every level of fabulation, as the Exegesis takes over 
from the waning memories of 2-3-74, the novel VALIS offers new creative 
impetus when he feels his exegetical activity beginning to lose steam, and within 
the narrative the pattern is rephcated again as Fat and Dick, along with their 
friends, seemingly having exhausted the possibility of understanding Valis, 
draw new inspiration from a film called Valis. 

The film contains many elements of Fat’s mystical experiences - including 
the pink beam of light, the pot in which god slumbers, subliminal references to 
the early Christians - and tells a similar story to that which has been revealed 
to him, of a prison world dominated by illusion, and the struggle to break 
free through anamnesis. Many elements in the film which connect with the 
contents of Fat’s visions are discernible only by picking up subliminal messages, 
through symbolic imagery, ‘flash-cut’ frames, and the sub-conscious effects of 
its strange soundtrack, produced using innovative techniques referred to as 
‘Synchronicity Music’ (147). It is only at this point that Fat adopts the name 
Valis for the 2-3-74 entity, although the reader has already been informed 
by the novel’s epigram that it is an acronym standing for Vast Active Living 
Intelligence System. 

Fat and his friends find in the film a confirmation that his visions have some 
basis in a reality beyond his own mind, since the filmmakers seem indepen- 
dently to have had similar experiences. It is Kevin, the cynic, who brings the 
film to the attention of David, Fat and Phil Dick. Until this point, Kevin’s view 
had been that in 1974, following a protracted descent into misery and despair, 
‘Fat had begun a lurid schizophrenic episode to liven up his drab life’ (153). 
Even this materialist/sceptical position recognizes the (limited) saving or at 
least therapeutic power of Fat’s so-called madness, in staving off depression 
and a suicidal tendency: ‘For Fat, total psychosis was a mercy’ (153). Converted 
by the film, Kevin enthusiastically pursues further external verification of the 
existence of the superior being manifest in Fat’s visions. In an extension of 
Stone’s cure, the others begin to see Fat’s apparent mental illness as the basis 
of authority: ‘A total reversal had in fact taken place: instead of mollifying Fat 
we now had to turn to him for advice’ (161). The group agrees to join Fat in a 
quest to find the true Saviour that, as emphasized by the discussion of Wagner’s 
Parsifal, has overtones of the Grail legend - especially in that, as Fat establishes 
in conversation with Phil, the quest must succeed or they will both die (130). 

The Reality of Valis 


What unites a devout Catholic, a cynical atheist, a suicidal junkie and his 
slightly more rational alter ego, is primarily the material evidence they believe 
they have acquired in the form of the matching information shared by the 
film and Fat’s visions. Yet they also share a certain ethical outlook, the core of 
which is reflected in their decision to call themselves ‘the Rhipidon Society’. 
The name is based on one of Fat’s dreams, in which he was a large fish trying 
to hold an M-16 rifle; his fan-like fins (an anatomical feature designated by the 
Greek term rhipidos) made it impossible to hold the gun (171). In identifying 
themselves with this scene, and choosing as their motto ‘Fish cannot carry guns’, 
the group effectively enact an absolute refusal of what Bergson refers to as the 
war-instinct. That is, they position themselves not just as pacifist by choice, but 
fundamentally, biologically incapable of violence - in the manner of the open 
soul. Yet the group they are to encounter in their quest to find the saviour, those 
responsible for the film, despite their shared knowledge of Valis, will turn out to 
be a manifestation of virtually the opposite tendency. The parallel between the 
two thus provides us with one more opportunity to consider the dangerous ease 
with which open morality may revert to closure. 

Befriending god 

Once contact has been made, the stars of the film Valis, Eric and Linda Lampton, 
and its music producer Brent Mini, invite the Rhipidons to come and visit them 
in their country mansion. There are ominous signs from the moment they 
arrive, as the narrator associates the mansion, ‘set in the middle of grape vines’, 
with Dionysos, god of wine, madness and intoxication (179). There are further 
reasons for concern when the Lamptons identify themselves as the ‘Friends of 
God’ (Gottesfreunde), referring to a fourteenth-century German mystic society, 
but stating that their lineage goes much further back, to the race of Ikhnaton, 
‘the ugly builders with clawlrke hands’, to Hephaistos and the Kyklopes (175-6). 
The association with Hephaistos, god of technology and metallurgy, has conno- 
tations of mechanization and instrumentality, and perhaps the Black Iron 
Prison, while Kevin suggests that it identifies them as the killers of Asklepios: 
according to Pindar, Zeus killed Asklepios with a thunderbolt borrowed from 
the Kyklopes for attempting to raise the dead.*^ 

At the mansion. Fat and his friends are introduced to Brent Mini and told 
that he has become terminally ill after suffering the equivalent of radiation 
exposure due to excessive contact with Valis. Unlike Fat, Mini begged Valis to 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

resume contact following the initial experiences: ‘It didn’t want to; it knew the 
effect it would have on me if it returned. But it did what I asked. I’m not sorry. 
It was worth it to experience VALIS again (185-6). Mini and the Lamptons are 
addicted to God. The ambiguity of the pharmakon in their case seems to have 
been resolved in favour of the negative, poisonous side, as the narrator suggests: 
‘Too much medication, I said to myself, remembering Paracelsus, is a poison. 
This man has been healed to death’ (185). Thus whereas Fat was healed and 
educated by Valis, the Lamptons have willingly become possessed by God - and 
‘if your god takes you over, it is likely that no matter what name he goes by he is 
actually a form of the mad god Dionysos’ (179). At one level, the encounter with 
Mini and the Lamptons can be read as an extended warning or parable about 
the dangers of such addiction. In forming an elite society, regarding themselves 
as privileged members of a chosen few Friends of God who are to welcome the 
Saviour, they have come to exhibit the defining characteristics of the closed 
society. Accordingly, when the Rhipidons decide to leave, the Lamptons attempt 
to convince them to stay using a logic of exclusion - of closure rather than 

‘Look at it this way,’ Eric had said, backed up by Mini who seemed genuinely 
crestfallen that the Rhipidon Society, small as it was, had decided to depart. ‘This 
is the most important event in human history; you don’t want to be left out, do 
you? And after all, VALIS picked you out. We get literally thousands of letters on 
the film, and only a few people here and there seem to have been contacted by 
VALIS, as you were. We are a privileged group.’ (206, original italics) 

It is precisely this kind of thinking, however, that has convinced the Rhipidons 
to leave in the first place. As the narrator observes of Mini: ‘Your god has killed 
you and yet you’re happy [...] We have to get out of here. These people court 
death’ (185, original italics). The Rhipidon Society and the Friends of God 
do appear to have been contacted by the same entity, and to have developed 
soteriological frameworks with many overlapping elements. Yet they differ 
fundamentally and crucially in that the Rhipidons have adopted an open 
morality while the Gottesfreunde are attempting to restrict salvation to an elite 
group with themselves at the core, in the way every closed society extends its 
morality only to its own members. The difference between the soteriological 
speculations of the Rhipidons, as detailed in the first half of VALIS, and the 
perspective of the Lamptons is that the Rhipidons assume the precariousness 
of their own fabulations, questioning and interrogating them endlessly, whereas 
the Lamptons have developed a deep self-certainty regarding theirs: the former 

The Reality of Valis 


is a dynamic process of fabulation, the latter a collection of static results derived 
from a fabulating activity whose creative aspects have disappeared with their 

These differences are also reflected in the groups’ responses to one another’s 
perspectives. The Rhipidons are open to the Lamptons’ cosmology, ready to 
accept and integrate with their own perspective the stories about the Kyklopes 
and their ancient role in the construction of the universe. In contrast, the 
Lamptons’ approach to soteriology is corrective and exclusive, rejecting various 
elements of the Rhipidons’ account of their understanding of salvation, smiling 
archly at their ‘mistakes’ and speaking constantly in riddles in order to maintain 
the illusion that they possess a deep ‘secret knowledge’ that the Rhipidons have 
yet to learn. 

These differences between the two groups are encapsulated in Fat’s final 
memory of Linda Lampton, who kisses him on the mouth ‘with intensity and 
a certain amount, in fact a great amount, of erotic fervour’, whispering in his 
ear that ‘this is our future; it belongs to a very few, a very, very few’ (206). 
The Lamptons’ love is erotic love, the love of desire, based on feelings towards 
particular, like-minded individuals within the same closed group - a love which 
simultaneously constitutes the objectification - the mechanization - of both the 
desired and the desiring subject. It is in absolute contrast to the love of open 
morality, the Pauline caritas that is automatically extended unconditionally to 
all others, including those one has yet to encounter. The Lamptons do not seek 
an open future for all, but a limited, closed future, with survival restricted to 
‘a very, very few’ - the antithesis of an adequate notion of immanent salvation 
based on open morality. 

Despite their disappointment with the path taken by Mini and the Lamptons 
- ‘it constitutes bad news if the people who agree with you are buggier than 
batshif (212) - the Rhipidon Society is granted the encounter with the Saviour 
that is the ultimate purpose of their trip. That is, they are permitted an audience 
with the two-year-old, Sophia, who according to Linda Lampton is the child 
of herself and Valis (189). The name Sophia (meaning ‘wisdom’) is a relief to 
Dick/Fat, since it distinguishes her from the God he is afraid of finding - ‘a 
deity which slew with one hand while healing with another [...] that deity was 
not the Savior’ (190). Sophia expresses anger with the narrator for his suicide 
attempt. Not only does she refuse to allow him to defer responsibility on to Fat, 
she abolishes his alter ego, by declaring that the Rhipidon Society has only three, 
not four members. Phil (the narrator-bound character) feels himself become 
whole once again as Fat, his fabulated alter ego, disappears (or is reabsorbed) 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

(191). The function of the fabulation of Fat, it seems, had been to allow Phil to 
stay in touch with an aspect of himself that he needed but could not directly, 
intellectually accept; in losing the fabulation, he regains this dimension. Sophia 
informs Phil of the importance of self-transformation: 

‘Unless your past perishes,’ Sophia said to me, ‘you are doomed. Do you 
know that?’ 

‘Yes,’ I said. 

Sophia said, ‘Your future must differ from your past. The future must always 
differ from the past’ (191) 

Sophia thus appears to reject Fat’s understanding that time is irrelevant or 
non-existent. She also states that the now-deceased Gloria will never return to 
life, contradicting the Lamptons’ assertion that humans are immortal. Sophia 
differentiates herself from the Friends of God in the manner that Paul and 
the early gnostic Christians can be distinguished from an orthodox Christian 
perspective, in treating the Resurrection as symbolic, indicating the possibility 
of recreating oneself anew, rather than literal, signifying the actual reanimation 
of a corpse. Sophia also situates herself firmly on the side of the open, by making 
it clear that the role of the saviour cannot overlap with any force that destroys 
life: “‘I am the injured and the slain,” Sophia said. “But I am not the slayer. I 
am the healer and the healed’” (192). The Rhipidons subsequently re-affirm 
the absolute difference between the Friends of God, governed by a principle 
of death masquerading as life, and Sophia, an embodied principle of life: ‘“It’s 
a paradox; two totally whacked out people - three, if you count Mini - have 
created a totally sane offspring”’ ( 194). Given the possibility (already raised) that 
Sophia is herself an ‘artificial intelligence in a human body’ (193), the full life- 
death chiasmus has taken place: the supposedly mystic Friends of God, seeing 
themselves as on the side of life, have been revealed, like the Kalends, to operate 
according to a principle of closure, of mechanization; while the supposedly 
mechanistic entity is, like the robot Willis, shown to be on the side of life. 

During a second meeting, Sophia confirms the Rhipidons’ view that there 
is an essential difference between their outlook and that of the Lamptons, 
informing them that it was she who provided them with their motto ‘Fish cannot 
carry guns’, aligning their non-violent outlook with herself, with Wisdom. In 
contrast to the project into which the Lamptons would like to recruit them - 
that of extending and empowering a secret society - Sophia now gives them 
another mission: ‘What you teach is the word of man. Man is holy, and the true 
god, the living god, is man himself You will have no gods but yourselves; the 

The Reality of Valis 


days in which you believed in other gods end now, they end forever’ (198). A 
god - or at least, a figure which is understood to be speaking for something 
that has through most of the novel been associated with divine or transcendent 
properties - tells them to cease believing in gods. Thus the purpose of fabulation 
is made clear: we fabulate gods, transcendent others, saviour-figures, in order 
to realize our own potential for transformation, for self-salvation. At the same 
time, the circumstances of its enunciation expose the paradoxical constraints 
which come with it: this activity must somehow be knowingly undertaken, 
and yet understood as something more than fictionalizing in any conventional 
sense: or rather, fictionalizing, fabulation, must be recognized as a worldmaking 
activity, rather than as a flight from reality. As much as anything else, Dick’s 
soteriology is an endless, seemingly inexhaustible preparedness to find new, 
creative ways of fulfilling these apparently impossible conditions. 


Just because the Lamptons are mistaken in believing themselves to be the 
Friends and spokespersons for God, it does not render them less dangerous: 
‘Evil does not die of its own self because it imagines that it speaks for god. 
Many claim to speak for god, but there is only one god and that god is man 
himself’ (198). In other words, speaking for God, regardless of whether God 
exists, institutes a morality of closure that is in absolute opposition to the open 
morality that derives from wisdom: this wisdom - the wisdom of love - does 
not ultimately require a transcendent god, or at most, allows only a glimpse of 
one that is always in the process of disappearing, such that its emergence within 
the human is increasingly revealed as an immanent potential. Sophia declares 
herself human as opposed to divine, yet simultaneously ‘the child of my father, 
which is Wisdom himself’ (199). 

The Rhipidons at this point clearly believe that Sophia is what she seems - 
even if what she seems is slightly different for each of them. Phil, the narrator, 
sees her as one of the four members of the Rhipidon Society, while David and 
Kevin reprise their polarized perspectives, but this time in ways that converge 
in confirming her saviour status: David, the Gatholic, declares, ‘I believe it. 
She’ll be inside us; we won’t be alone’ (201); while Kevin, the cynic, is infuriated 
to realize that he has forgotten to ask Sophia about his dead cat - a regret that 
still imphes a genuine belief that he has encountered the divine and missed his 
chance (202). Fat, of course, has disappeared on contact with the saviour-figure. 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

whose discovery, arguably, was his fundamental purpose, the reason he (a 
fabulation of Phil Dick) was created. 

On returning home, however, the Rhipidons are shocked when they receive 
a phone-call from the Lamptons, telling them that Sophia is dead. Mini has 
killed her with his laser-based equipment, trying, in his excessive enthusiasm, 
to find new ways of harnessing the living information of Valis. Following this 
catastrophic news, everything appears to unravel, as the Rhipidon Society dissi- 
pates and Fat reappears. If Phil is bitterly disappointed to have lost the Saviour 
immediately after finding her, he is only more enraged when Fat declares that 
he still intends to search for the Saviour. Yet within the soteriology of the novel, 
this disappointment at the end of the quest - as so often with Dick’s reputedly 
‘unsatisfying’ endings - may be seen to have a crucial function. 

In apparently giving up on Sophia - that is, on Wisdom and salvation - the 
Rhipidons are failing at the mission they were given. Her salvific message was 
itself an instruction to them to stop relying on her, and become, effectively, 
their own gods. Thus her dying, though they seem unable to grasp it, may 
be understood as establishing precisely the necessary conditions for them 
to undertake their task. As a fabulated saviour-figure within many infolding 
or nested soteriological fabulations, Sophia’s first function is to prevent the 
thought of (or hope for) salvation from collapsing into a belief in its impos- 
sibility. Yet her second function, equally important, is to become mortal, to 
disappear, in order that the faith placed in this fiction may be redirected to the 
power of fabulation itself, which is essentially a serial, recursive, life -prolonging 
activity. Sophia has furnished the Rhipidons with the opportunity to carry out 
the Bergsonian task of enabling the universe to realize its true function as a 
machine for making gods (MR: 317). Whether they will accept this challenge, 
and give up on soteriology as the quest for an already-existing saviour, while 
beginning the immanent soteriological work of producing salvation, remains 
an open question, as it almost certainly always must. 

Near the end of the novel, Phil receives via television what he thinks may be 
a further message announcing a new hope of salvation. A brief overlapping of 
two pieces of consecutive programming produces, in his perception, the phrase 
‘KING FELIX’, which can be connected to his past soteriological fabulations in 
a number of ways, yet consequently demands new efforts of creative interpre- 
tation. After the disappointment of the Lamptons and the death of Sophia, his 
fabulative deduction has taken a blow, and Valis has gone quiet. Lat has also 
departed on a new quest, this time global in scope - seemingly suggesting that 
Phil needs a break even from the alter ego upon which (or whom) he clearly, to 

The Reality of Valis 


a degree, depends for his sanity. But gradually, the fabulating impulse flickers 
back into life, or at least, half-life. Through new associations with fabulative 
material discerned in ‘hidden meanings’ in television commercials, the epitome 
of the excess trash produced by modern commercialized media culture, those 
earlier fabulations around Valis and 2-3-74 that had become stale or static with 
Sophia’s death begin to become dynamic once again. Is Phil actually being sent a 
new message from or about a transcendent godlike saviour-figure who is ‘on the 
way’? Or is he creating from the raw material at hand a reason to go on believing 
in the possibility of salvation? Is there, ultimately, a difference? In either case, 
he is opening himself to hope, and doing something that will render the static 
dynamic, re-energizing the soteriological potential of older fabulations (which 
is also, arguably, a key function of the novel as a whole). This uncertainty - but 
also this openness - hangs over the closing lines of the novel, as Phil Dick sits 
watching television output in which he has no interest, save for that one antici- 
pated meaningful message or conjunction of random information that will offer 
a clue, a basis for the next step in his immanent soteriology, his path towards 
salvation. This soteriology takes on its simplest form in this basic activity of 
seeking out patterns in noise, creating structures from randomness: though at 
this level it may be at its furthest remove from what is generally conceived as 
the absolutely life-transforming event of salvation, it is also here that it finds the 
form most resistant to all forces that would negate or eradicate it, as it converges 
with what seems to be a fundamental activity of life. 

Epilogue: Soter-ecologies 

Dick has as a rule taken over a rubble of building materials from the run-of- 
the-mill American professionals ofSF, frequently adding a true gleam 
of originality to the already worn-out concepts and, what is surely more 
important, erecting with such material constructions truly his own. 

(Lem 1992: 57) 

Since the first short story he sold for publication, in which the menacing 
‘Roogs’ masquerade as garbage collectors in order to acquire the contents of 
the metal ‘offering urns’ outside suburban houses, Dick had been discerning 
the hidden value in trash. Perhaps appropriately, when he was taken to hospital 
shortly before his death, his friend Tim Powers hid the unpublished pages of 
the Exegesis inside a large ashtray bearing the slogan ‘Elvis is King’, in order to 
prevent it being found by unwelcome archons.' The unending process of seeking 
out signs in noise, producing meaning from the literal and figurative trash of 
contemporary culture, which is all that remains for (whatever remains of) the 
reflective subject at the end of VALIS, could be understood as the degree zero 
of Dick’s soteriology: an open-ended, non-programmed readiness to detect 
intimations of a saving potential anywhere, which, precisely because of this 
indeterminacy, its apparent weakness, need never absolutely fail. 

At this level, soteriological activity converges with the basic activity of 
fabulation and arguably thought itself Here the distinction between finding 
and producing meaning is itself meaningless, and the process becomes indistin- 
guishable from the primal activity of making distinctions, finding or producing 
objects, resources, tools, entities. From this basic activity, humans make all 
manner of tangible and intangible, simple and complex inventions: plans, ideas, 
gods, stories, wars, clocks, guns, hallucinations, buildings, commodities, ghosts, 
computers, atoms and every other component of what they come to understand 
as reality. There is no general or fundamental distinction between the fictional 
and the real, between dreams and technologies: there is merely the degree to 
which the reality-fictions that I have been calling tabulations become static 
or dynamic in our experience. This is not to say that the world is an idealist 
construct, that it has no material substance beyond thought: rather, that we 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

experience ‘things’ as more or less ‘thing-like’, more or less ‘real’, according to the 
extent to which we perceive them as changing or unchanging, as autonomous 
and static or embedded in dynamic flows of matter and energy. This ontological 
and psychological understanding is both Bergsonian and Dickian, concerned 
with processes and reality flelds rather than, for example, atomistic units of 
matter in Newtonian space-time. Some elements of our reality flelds develop 
a more concrete appearance of stability than others; many, once the reality- 
building activity is under way, will give the impression of having preceded it, of 
having been ‘there’ before us: and indeed, something is ‘there’ before we perceive 
it - ‘given’ to perception in Whitehead’s sense, that is, to a creative activity that 
is the origin of each occasion of experience, even as the objects with which it 
is concerned are antecedent to that process (Whitehead 1942 [1933]: 206-10). 
Only where some form of self-establishing (autopoietic) entity is just beginning 
to emerge (whether it then begins to take on the shape of an individual human, 
a group, a society, or another nonhuman form of collectivity), is the reality 
held fully dynamic. In such a state, we (or something) carve(s) out ‘things’ 
and ‘images’ while allowing others to dissolve back into the continuity of 
non-specific heterogeneous world (or raw worldmaking material), until we 
gradually determine or are taught that some such elements are of recurring 
usefulness or desirability, worth keeping around. 

Though we may continue to engage dynamically in this fabulative, reality- 
building activity throughout our lives, it is likely that for most of us the larger 
parts of our reality flelds become static, especially as the elements of which 
they are composed are confirmed as established elements in the reality flelds 
of others, as parts of the koinos kosmos. Few of us are able to return to the 
degree zero of fabulation, at which any reality is possible, where every moment 
of perception or affect produces raw materials for an unplanned ontological 
architecture. To reach such a state would seem to require either the achievement 
of some form of mystical enlightenment or the equivalent of a psychotic 
break. It should therefore be no surprise if the extreme and intense pressure 
of a critical situation in which salvation is at stake turns out to be its germinal 
condition. Despite the rarity of cases in which such a condition has identiflably 
produced such a state, there have nevertheless been, it may be argued, many 
artistic, psychological, political and philosophical attempts to engineer a mode 
of engaging with the world along these lines. Most such attempts necessarily 
begin by taking apart the particular aspects of whatever reality held, with its 
corresponding subject, they wish to challenge - whether this is the hegemony 

Epilogue: Soter-ecologies 


of the (bourgeois) humanist subject, the capitalist social structure, a dominant 
aesthetic system, a scientific paradigm or an understanding of the divine. 

Whether because he was a ‘crisis junkie’ (Sutin 1991: 148) or because of some 
natural aptitude for fabulation, Dick tended to engage in such activity in many 
different arenas. Stanislaw Lem’s statement of Dick’s facility for working with the 
rubble of building materials left behind by more conventional American science 
fiction writers, in order to construct new edifices of his own, may also be applied 
to other dimensions of his life and work: for example, as he attempts to produce 
an alternative to the human subject out of bits and pieces of souls, archetypes, 
androids, and other broken machines; as he pursues an immanent form of 
salvation through endlessly working and playing with fragments of formerly 
unified images of the divine, the remains of older concepts and figures of 
salvation; or as he seeks to reconstruct a world that he can bear to inhabit, from 
structures that he finds to have been damaged, shattered or dismantled by other 
thinkers and writers, or to have simply fallen into disrepair under the pressures 
of secular industrial modernity and post-war consumer culture. Indeed, we 
frequently see Dick giving a shaky structure a nudge, or subtly dismantling a 
load-bearing component in order to produce rubble with which he can work. 

The attitude that is required to begin building new reality fields from scratch, 
whether in political, social, aesthetic, ontological, theological or other contexts, 
is one that treats every part of one’s environment as simultaneously trash (the 
remnant of some other reality field now in ruins or in the process of collapse) 
and as potential resource. Dick attempts to produce a saviour or god using found 
objects, processes and texts, most intensively in the post 2-3-74 years through 
the Exegesis and his late novels. Despite his claims during this period to be 
seeking out a hidden, revelatory, divine or alien meaning, the logos of a mystical 
communication, he is clearly at the same time experimenting, collecting and 
arranging the materialized, manageable forms in which he receives ideas and 
information, putting them together to see if and how they fit, and what they 
do or are capable of doing. This is further reflected in his recursive approach 
to the resulting texts, whereby he repeatedly returns to ideas he had previously 
discussed both within the pages of the Exegesis and in his earlier fiction, each 
time developing a new interpretation in light of some new datum, the whole 
process in turn becoming the object of further (re-)iterations in the novel VALIS 
and arguably those which followed. 

Far from constituting a traditionally exegetic activity - but equally far from 
the enlightened self-confidence corresponding to a certain widespread image 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

of the visionary mystic - this fabulative work at times comes to seem more like 
the approach of a Dadaist sculptor or, in Matthew Fullers sense, a constructor 
of media ecologies (2007: 1-2)7 Though what Dick is attempting to construct, 
rather than a multimedia collage, is ultimately the figure of the saviour - or the 
system, reasoning, logic of salvation - the ideas, concepts, processes and experi- 
ences from which he makes it are materialized as found objects, to the extent 
that large sections of the Exegesis consist of encyclopedia entries copied out in 
full, their order subsequently subject to repeated rearrangements (E: 134, 234 
[Pamela Jackson, footnotes]). In the terminology used throughout this book, 
such an activity might best be described as dynamic fabulation working upon 
the static. 

Bergson, as we saw early on in this study, never differentiates closed and open 
or static and dynamic forms of fabulation in the manner that he distinguishes 
the tendencies producing divergent religious, moral and social forms. The 
closest he comes is in distinguishing two modes of composition by which the 
philosopher-writer might attempt to channel the impetus of true mysticism. The 
first of these, while it may be ‘original and rigorous’, nevertheless draws on ideas 
already developed and circulating within society and language. His account of 
the second is worthy of an extended quotation: 

Now there is another method of composition, more ambitious, less certain, 
which cannot tell when it will succeed or even if it wiU succeed at aU. It consists 
in working back from the intellectual and social plane to a point in the soul 
from which there springs an imperative demand for creation. The soul within 
which this demand dwells may indeed have felt it fully only once in its lifetime, 
but it is always there, a unique emotion, an impulse, an impetus received from 
the very depths of things. To obey it completely new words would have to 
be coined, new ideas would have to be created, but this would no longer be 
communicating something, it would not be writing. Yet the writer will attempt 
to realize the unrealizable. He will revert to the simple emotion, to the form 
which yearns to create its matter, and will go with it to meet ideas already made, 
words that already exist, briefly social segments of reality. All along the way he 
will feel it manifesting itself in signs born of itself, I mean in fragments of its 
own materialization. (MR: 253-4) 

Such a mode might well be exemplified by Dick’s fabulations, rooted in an 
‘imperative demand for creation’ which continually inspires him to engage 
in new attempts to ‘realize the unrealizable’ through writing that is not (just) 
writing. Though the goal of salvation may never be reached in any conclusive 

Epilogue: Soter-ecologies 


sense, the very unending nature of this soter-ecological activity, the process of 
building the way to salvation, in a sense becomes the thing sought - as long as 
it is never treated as finally having been found. Dick’s immanent soteriology in 
general, and the dynamic fabulation of Valis in particular, allow the possibility 
of salvation to be experienced purely in and as the continued creative impulse 
to pursue it in the face of its impossibility, to invent a path where there appears 
to be an ultimate impasse. 

Thus, in the course of his soter-ecological activity, rendering dynamic and 
changeable those reality fields which have become static, creating new reality 
fields from fragments of the old, drawing in everything around him but 
magically transmuting kipple into new building materials for a spontaneous 
negentropic onto-architecture, Dick finds the possibility of salvation in the 
search for it - as Bergson puts it, in ‘fragments of its own materialization’. In a 
relatively late entry in the Exegesis, dated 17 November 1980, Dick recounts a 
conversation between himself and God, the latter taking the form of ‘the infinite 
void’ (E: 639). In the course of this discussion, the identity between Dick’s 
theoretical explanations of 2-3-74 and the nature of the divinity with which 
it is communicating is made exphcit. Each theory or speculation about Valis 
gives rise to an infinite series of theses and counter-theses, and each time the 
chain of reasoning or speculation collapses, God declares that he is present in 
that infinity. Dick seems by this time to be aware that his search, his exegesis or 
soteriology, can never reach a conclusion. As Bergson says of the true mystic, 
‘[h]is description is interminable, because what he wants to describe is ineffable’ 
(252). Even in elaborating the impossibility of completing his work of exegesis, 
his dynamic fabulation, Dick continues to produce it - fictionalizing God even 
as that same God tells him his quest will never be successfully concluded. Yet at 
the same time, this infinite fabulating process is the answer, as long as it remains 
infinite, inconclusive. God says: ‘Without realizing it, the very infinitude of your 
theories pointed to the solution; they pointed to me and none but me’ (E: 641). 

Immediately after this account, Dick concludes that he has been deceived by 
Satan into working on the Exegesis for six and a half years, declaring that it has 
been futile and a ‘hell-chore’ (E: 643) - but that it has nevertheless paradoxi- 
cally led him to God precisely through the recognition of this fact. What Dick 
calls God, or Valis, is the dynamic complex system of exegetical speculating 
and theorizing he has developed. This seemingly mystical scene points to the 
immanent nature of Valis as an ecological form: Dick has created such a large 
body of interlocking, contradicting, enhancing ideas and fictions that they have 


The Philosophy of Science Fiction 

gone on not only representing, but producing, creating, fabulating, long after his 
physical death; or rather, they have become part of other ecologies that exist or 
operate beyond the living time and space of any given so-called human. In this 
one sense, perhaps, he managed, ultimately, to emulate James Joyce, a writer he 
greatly admired but would never hope to come close to matching by any literary 

To engage with the philosophical and soteriological projects of Bergson and 
Dick is to be engaged by them, to partake in and continue the philosophical 
fictionalizing activities with which they attempt both to challenge and to change 
‘reality’ - to engage in science fiction, the (re)inventing of the known. As Barlow 
writes, ‘Dick cannot merely be consumed or [...] critically digested. Through 
his writing career [. . .] he arises within his critics and readers, forcing them into 
his conversations, making them consider, in their own lives, the dilemmas of 
his fictions’ (2005: 5-6). I would add, however, that it is not Dick himself that 
emerges within the worlds of his readers, but something in which he himself 
was only partially (albeit decisively) involved: he was no more the master of his 
fictions than are his readers. It may ultimately be in this sense that an immanent 
saviour becomes conceivable - as the object one attempts to specify and explain 
increasingly takes on or functions with forms of agency and interaction over 
which one retains influence, but has no hope of acquiring control. 

Bergson suggests, following the passage cited above, that the attempt to 
realize the unrealizable, if it does in some degree succeed, ‘will have enriched 
humanity with a thought that can take on a fresh aspect for each generation, 
with a capital yielding ever-renewed dividends, and not just with a sum down 
to be spent at once’ (MR: 254). Dick’s immanent soteriology, precisely because 
it did not reach a conclusive moment of success and therefore come to a halt, 
precisely because of its constitutive incompleteness, has just such a capacity to 
continually renew itself, offering endless new resources and impetus to other 
soter-ecologists, rather than consisting in a collection of theories or ideas 
about salvation to be archived alongside others. As Bergson puts it, for the 
philosopher beginning to appreciate the mystic’s view, ‘creation will appear [...] 
as God undertaking to create creators’ (MR: 255). What is at stake here is not 
the existence of God, but the choice between two modes of creation: that which 
produces or merely recirculates finite, static creations, and that which transmits 
and promotes creation as a dynamic, incomplete process. The former is equiv- 
alent to the subject producing objects, the living constructing the non-living 
(which becomes a form of self-objectification, of auto -mechanization); whereas 
the latter takes every creating subject to be part-creator, part-created, never 

Epilogue: Soter-ecologies 


autonomous, never fully human, nevery truly ‘saved’; but never absolutely lost 
either. Thus it is dynamic fabulation - with its infinite capacity for challenging 
the real, for transcending any immediate conditions of (im)possibility - upon 
which one must draw ‘in order to conceive as creative energy the love wherein 
the mystic sees the very essence of God’ (MR: 254). 



1 For a range of approaches to the relationship between philosophy and science 
fiction, conducted in a variety of tones, see Myers (1983); Clark (1995); Alsford 
(2000); Rowlands (2003); Nichols, Smith and Miller (2008); Sanders (2008); 
Schneider (2009). 

2 Stableford (1987) epitomizes the sociological approach to science fiction. Westfahl 
(1998) makes one of the most comprehensive cases for Gernsback as the founder of 
the modern genre. 

3 An aspect of the historical emergence of science fiction which is often elided in 
the contemporary common- sense understanding of the genre, and which I have 
not attempted to explore here, is the extent to which science fiction as an emergent 
genre follows relatively distinct trajectories in the US and Europe. For an excellent 
account of both, which respects their differences and explores the relationship 
between them, see Luckhurst (2005: 15-75). 

4 That this ‘predictive’ mode of science fiction was not Dick’s natural approach is 
perhaps reflected in the fact that Campbell purchased just one of his short stories 
ior Astounding Science Fiction - ‘Impostor’, in 1953 (Sutin 1991: 76). However, 

it was editors such as Gernsback and Campbell who established the shape of the 
science fiction industry and genre as Dick experienced it growing up. 

5 An extensive collection of Newton’s writing (published and unpublished) on 
religious and alchemical topics, along with his other works, can be found online 
at The Newton Project: (last accessed 9 
November 2012). 

6 The far-reaching power and the extreme limitations of the reasoning mind are 
mutually implicated, such that it appears to be infinitesimally diminished and 
cosmicaUy extended at the same time. As Howard Caygill notes, the sublime as 

a ‘check on the power of judgement is followed by a realization of the power and 
extent of the ideas of reason’ (1995: 380). 

7 Quotations from Antonioli (1999) are translated from the original French text. 

8 For the line of influence (as well as extensive parallels) between Bergson and Jung, 
see Gunter (1982). Sutin reports that, under the guidance of friend and next-door 



neighbour Connie Barbour, Dick read Virtually all of Jung’s work available in 
translation’ in his early twenties (1991: 60). For Bergson’s influence on British 
modernist literature see Gillies (1996), which includes a chapter on Joyce. For the 
formative influence of Joyce on Dick see Rickman (1988a: 85-7). 

9 For example, there are several details in The Two Sources that are suggestive of an 
overlap with a Marxist politics, including the recognition of the importance of the 
money-commodity in commodity exchange (MR, 69); the fundamental importance 
of exchange relations to concepts of social justice and the class inequality at work 
in both types of transaction (MR, 70); the location of the source of social conflict in 
ownership (e.g. of land, resources, slaves) (MR, 284); and the discussion of the role 
played by industrialization in revolutionizjing] the relations between employer and 
employed, between capital and labour’ (MR, 307), which calls for an awakening to 
consciousness of this situation and action against it on the part of humanity. 

10 See Sutin (1991: 208-33) for a biographical overview of this period in Dick’s life. 
Many of Dick’s own accounts are found throughout the Exegesis, a smaller selection 
of which are collected in the earlier, more compact volume In Pursuit of Valis: 
Selections from the Exegesis (Dick, 1991a: 1-62). See also the interviews in Philip K. 
Dick: The Last Testament (Rickman: 1985). 

11 Later, however, Dick would suggest that science fiction and theology ‘must be 
related in some important way’ (E: 177). Many of Dick’s most emphatic statements 
can be found negated elsewhere in his writing - though in this case the events of 
2-3-74 make the shift in perspective appear as more a development in his thinking 
than a contradiction. 

12 See McKee (2004: v-ix) for a critique and reversal of this stance. 

13 1 have cited the King James Version rather than more recent scholarly editions of 
the Bible here, for its use of the ‘glass, darkly’ vocabulary that is referenced in many 
of Dick’s works, such as A Scanner Darkly (1991c [1977]) and A Glass of Darkness, 
the original title of his short early novel. The Cosmic Puppets (2006 [1957]). 

14 In a sense anticipating Hardt and Negri (2000) - though with a less sociological, 
more metaphysical inflection - Dick understands ‘Empire’ as a paradigm of power 
and domination that goes far beyond the scope of national imperialism. See 
Chapter 3 of this book for a detailed consideration. 

Chapter 1: Counteracting Reality 

1 The biographical material on Bergson presented here is based on Soulez and Worms 

2 In Matter and Memory Bergson had explored at length the fallacies that arrive from 
attempting to reconstruct that which is naturally continuous - such as experience 



or memory - out of a collection of facts or pieces of information. On Bergson’s 
memory as counter to conventional, archival paradigms, see Cariou (1999) and 
Burton (2008). 

3 Soulez notes that Bergson drew specifically on Schaeffle’s and Spencer’s 
presentations of the society-organism analogy in his lectures at the Lycee Clermont 
and the Lycee Henri- IV during the 1890s (Soulez and Worms 2002: 93). For a wider 
discussion of the use of the organism metaphor in sociology see Levine (1995). 

4 In this sense, Bergson may be said to anticipate the post-war influence of the 
ecological paradigm on disciplines beyond biology, which in the early twentieth 
century was already beginning to displace the dominant focus on the organism, 
shifting it towards a concern with environmental systems. 

5 Cf ‘If we examine this point more closely, we shall find that consciousness is the 
light that plays around the zone of possible actions or potential activity which 
surrounds the action really performed by the living being. It signifies hesitation or 
choice’ (CE: 144). 

6 The theory of symbiogenesis was proposed at the beginning of the twentieth 
century by Konstantin Merezhkovsky. Lynn Margulis, along with her writing 
collaborator (and son) Dorion Sagan, is responsible for its gaining widespread 
contemporary credibility, both through experimental results and theoretical 
publications (Margulis 1981, 1998; Margulis and Sagan 1987). 

7 It may be that the unconventional utopianism of Ernst Bloch, with its blend of 
messianic and Marxist conceptions of futurity, hope and transformation, consists of 
a long attempt to face this difficulty of the mutually infecting necessity and danger 
of prescribing a future world. As such it may be one of the few forms of utopianism 
adequate to the thought of the open society. 

8 We might speculate that, had Bergson gone into a more extended discussion 
of Buddhism, he might have considered including among his examples of true 
mystics the figure of the boddhisatva, who in some Buddhist traditions refuses 
Enlightenment to return to the world to help others - although the other examples 
he gives may suggest that he was primarily interested only in citing historical 

9 The New International Version translates the passage as follows: ‘Now we see but 
a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in 
part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’ References to this passage 
appear frequently in Dick’s novels, for example in The Cosmic Puppets (2006; 1956) 
(originally titled A Glass of Darkness), The Man in the High Castle (1965; 1962), A 
Scanner Darkly (1991c; 1977) and VALIS (1991d [1981]). 



Chapter 2: Fabulating Salvation in Four Early Novels 

1 Confessions of a Crap Artist came close to being taken up by a publisher in 1960, 
but Dick was unable to supply the requested re-write. It was eventually published in 
1975, with the other early mainstream novels following posthumously (Sutin 1991: 
104-5; Lord RC 2006: 91-2). 

2 For Bergson, memories are not stored on a substrate, in a physical container, since 
it is only in the act of recall that memory gives the impression of consisting in 
separate chunks or units. This dimension of Bergson’s understanding of memory is 
discussed in detail in Burton (2008); see also Lawlor (2003: 45-6) and Mullarkey 
(1999: 48-55). 

Chapter 3: The Empire that Never Ended 

1 Elsewhere, for instance in Being and Event (2007 [1988]), Badiou’s most extended 
elaboration of his philosophical system, he posits that mathematics, in particular 
set theory, is required to carry out ontological work, for which language is 
fundamentally inadequate. 

2 Pasolini’s film, in which New York would stand for Pauline Rome, was never made, 
but the script/notes were published as San Paolo (1977). We can only imagine 
how, in an alternative world, such a film might have affected Dick, seeming to 
confirm the veracity of his own visions, in the manner of the imagined film Valis 
for Horselover Fat (itself inspired by Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 film The Man Who Pell 
to Earth). 

3 What may be termed Badiou’s ‘immanentizing’ of Saint Paul’s writing, continuing 
a tendency made prominent by Jacob Taubes’ (2004) political theology of Paul, 
has arguably already been a major theme in twentieth-century theology. Rudolf 
Bultmann’s influential and controversial call for the de-mythologizing’ of the New 
Testament kerygma led him to advocate a reading of Saint Paul that often does not 
seem far from Badiou’s non-literal understanding. For example: ‘The Spirit does not 
work hke a supernatural force, nor is it the permanent possession of the believer. It 
is the possibility of a new life which must be appropriated by a deliberate resolve’ 
(Bultmann 1964: 22). In turn, parallels between this and early gnostic approaches to 
Christian teaching might also be discerned, a subject discussed briefly at the end of 
this chapter. 

4 All biblical quotations in this section are cited in the form in which they appear in 
the English translation of Agamben’s text (except where I have indicated otherwise). 
The translator (Patricia Dailey) drew on several different versions of the Bible in 
rendering Agamben’s translations in English. 



5 Badiou’s translator, Ray Brassier, like Agamben’s, draws on several versions of the 
Bible in trying to stay as close as possible to Badiou’s biblical citations in French. 
Patricia Dailey gives an English translation of Agamben’s rendering of this passage 
as follows: Tor with [the] heart it is believed unto justice, with the mouth then it is 
confessed unto salvation’. 

6 Dick’s own take on the ‘What if . . .’ approach is found in the essay ‘Who is an SF 
Writer?’ (1995b: 75). 

7 Furthermore, we might see versions of this struggle recurring throughout the 
history of Western thought - the supposed birth of philosophy, the rise of modern 
science, of Enlightenment rationality, and twentieth-century materialism, all place 
much value on the possibility of a clear separation of real and unreal, truth and 

Chapter 4: Objects of Salvation: The Man in the High Castle 

1 Tagomi’s wandering here echoes Stephen Daedalus’ intermittent automatism 
in Ulysses (1992 [1922]), for example in the ‘Proteus’ chapter, where he himself 
repeatedly seems to notice and reflect on it. Whenever a character becomes aware 
of their own abandonment of agency in such a way, the metafictional dimensions 
of storytelhng start to come into view, so that the roles of reader and writer in the 
character’s supposedly unconscious activity cannot be ignored. 

2 For an unofficial, yet comprehensive and effective demonstration of the extent of 
post-war destruction of human life, presenting, comparing and cross-referencing 
estimated statistics, see Matthew White’s Historical Atlas of the 20th Century, http:// 
users.erols.eom/mwhite28/20centry.htm (last accessed 21 June 2012). 

3 If the end of the Second World War did indeed establish a sense of moral authority 
and self-confidence among the political and social elites of Western nations, and 

a sense of entitlement to global leadership that to a large extent compensated for 
the loss of their colonial powers, then we might equally see this self-certainty as 
having been shattered with the terrorist attacks of September 2001. That the 9/11 
attacks should have had such a massive impact on global consciousness, despite a 
death toll that, in comparison with much less widely remembered and referenced 
atrocities, was relatively low, may be in part a reflection of the degree to which they 
undermined a moral and military self-confidence that had its roots in the Allied 
victory of 1945. 



Chapter 5: How We Became Post- Android 

1 Matthew Englund also explores the mutual dependence between the Glimmung 
as saviour and those he putatively arrives to save, linking this to the relationship 
between creator and creation in ways that resonate with what I have referred to 
elsewhere in this book as Dick’s organic or dynamic metafiction (Englund, 2012). 

2 In this much-discussed scene. Gaff sets a small origami unicorn on the ground, the 
implication being that he has access to Deckard’s artificially implanted dreams. This 
effect is only produced in later versions of the film (i.e. the ‘Director’s Cut’ and the 
‘Einal Cut’), since it depends upon an earlier scene in which Deckard is shown to 
be dreaming of a unicorn, and which was missing from the film’s original theatrical 
release in 1982. 

3 Steve Grand’s attempt to construct an intelligent anthropoid robot from scratch is 
detailed in his book Growing up with Lucy: How to Build an Android in Twenty Easy 
Steps (2004). 

Chapter 6: The Reality of Valis 

1 1 have developed elsewhere an account of the role of fictionalizing as a response to 
this impossibility in the Gilgamesh epic and the Prometheus myth (Burton 2013). 

2 The name Horselover Fat is itself a cipher for Philip Dick. ‘Phil’ becomes ‘lover’ 
on the basis that the English suffix ‘-phil’ derives from the Greek phi/fa (tpiXla), 
love - as in philosophia, love of wisdom, or Astrophil, star-lover, in Philip Sidney’s 
Astrophil and Stella sonnets; ‘ip’ becomes ‘Horse’, again a Greek-English translation; 
and ‘Dick’ is treated as German, becoming ‘Fat’ in English. 

3 Cf ‘My eyes close and 1 see that strange strawberry ice cream pink. At the same 
instant knowledge is transferred to me. 1 go into the bedroom where Tessa 

is changing Chrissy & 1 recite what has been conveyed to me: that he has an 
undetected birth defect 8c must be taken to the doctor at once 8c scheduled for 
surgery. This turns out to be true’ (Dick, Exegesis entry c. 1977, cited in Sutin 
1991: 225). 

4 Harold Bloom has suggested that ‘Gnosticism was (and is) a kind of information 
theory’ (1992: 30). Erik Davis popularized the association of gnosis with 
information/technoculture in TechGnosis (1998), which also provides valuable 
insights into their place in Dick’s thought. 

5 This is not to suggest that Dick’s ideas here are directly influenced by Bergson; there 
would have been myriad other possible sources for such notions of the oneness of 
fife and the universe available to Dick in 1970s Cahfornia - though it is certainly 



plausible that Bergson’s work had influenced some of these sources in turn (such as 
Teilhard de Chardin). 

6 The characters were also drawn broadly from real-life figures in Dick’s life, though 
deployed stylistically for the purposes of the novel: Kevin was inspired by K. W. 
Jeter, David by writer Tim Powers, both writers and friends of Dick (Sutin 1991: 

7 The Perky Pat layouts are a kind of virtual world (perhaps anticipating 
contemporary online platforms like Second Life), maintained with the use of dolls 
and Barhie-esque accessories and inhabited with the help of the hallucinogenic 
drug Can-D hy characters in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (2003b [1964]). 
Though only partially effective in staving off the emptiness and boredom of 

their everyday lives, they are relatively innocuous compared to the nightmarish 
alternative realities accessed through Palmer Eldritch’s drug Chew-Z, which, once 
entered, may he impossible to escape. 

8 Deleuze states that Freud’s unconscious does not know time ‘because it is never 
subordinated to the empirical contents of a present which passes in representation, 
but rather carries out the passive syntheses of an original time’ (1991: 114). 

9 We might even speculate that fabulation itself could he the ‘secret’ of many ancient 
mystery religions and so-called gnostic cults: the secret of fabulation would be 
that the falsity, or rather, the invented status, of the secret knowledge outwardly 
proclaimed, makes it no less powerful. In other words, the one who strives to find 
the transcendental secret behind the mystery will discover that there is no secret; 
yet for the true ‘initiate’, this is the secret (the initiate being defined as such only 
to the extent that she appreciates this), a fabulative power of transformation that 
depends on nothing but the imagination to alter material reality. 

10 This text can now be found in The Nag Hammadi Library in English (1990), titled 
‘On the Origin of the World’. 

1 1 The ancient Greek krisis or kraisis, derived from the verb krinein (meaning ‘to 
separate’ or ‘to decide’), referred to both a decisive moment in the development of 
an illness and the judgement at the end of a trial. 

12 The description of the film was inspired by Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Eell 
to Earth (Sutin, 1991: 258). It also draws on elements of Dick’s novel Radio Eree 
Albemuth (1999b [1985]), which was written before VALIS but only pubhshed 

13 Cf Kirk (1974: 127) on the fate of Asklepios, and Dick’s interpretation in the 
Exegesis (E: 34-7 [4:41]). This would also associate the Lamptons with the ‘killers’ 
who assail Mercer in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Mercer was, like 
Asklepios, punished for raising the dead, the bombardment of his brain with 
radioactive cobalt echoing the use of the Kyklopes’ thunderbolt. 



Epilogue: Soter-ecologies 

1 Powers has explained the story of his hiding of the Exegesis pages in, for example, 
a panel discussion at UC Irvine on 21 May 2010 (‘A County Darkly: Phihp K. Dick 
in the OC’), and in the documentary film ‘The Owl in Daylight - Philip K. Dick is 
here’ (Kleijwegt 2010). 

2 I explore these aspects of the Exegesis, with particular reference to its ecological 
character, in a forthcoming essay in Dunst and Schlensag (eds). The World 
According to Philip K. Dick (2015). 


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alchemy 7 

alternative history 113 
Amazing Stories 5 
anamnesia see under memory 
androidization 18, 19-20, 26, 64 
androids/ robots 61, 132, 137, 148-52, 
154-61, 164, 166-7, 207 
animism 39-40, 64 
antiques 120-3, 126 
Aristotle 5, 9, 149 
Asklepios 197 

as not {hos me) 98-9, 102, 105-7, 113-16, 
127, 134, 164-5 
astrology 7 

Badiou, Alain 52, 87-97, 103, 107, 151 

balking see ethics 

Ballard, J. G. 119 

Bardo Thodol 162 

Baudrillard, Jean 22 

Benjamin, Walter 1, 43, 97, 158 

Berth, Edouard 30 

biological unconscious 178 

biopower 139 

Black Iron Prison 18, 87, 126, 130, 135, 197 
Buck Rogers 81 
Butler, Octavia 53 

Campbell, John W. 6 
capitalism 15, 21-2, 86, 94, 115, 139, 151 
caritas 19-20, 107, 141, 150-1, 158, 199 
causality 37, 65, 72, 149, 181 
chiasmus (life-death) 95, 98, 103, 108, 

commodity fetishism 18, 94 
computers (intelligent) 73-5, 165 
creation (e.g. of life) 53, 132, 151, 159-61, 
163, 174, 210 

creative activity (e.g. artistic) 109-10, 147, 
174, 206, 209-10 

creative tendency 33, 46, 51-2, 68-9, 89, 
91, 142, 161, 164, 177 

crisis 40, 104, 130, 170, 179-80, 187, 190, 
194, 207 

Dante 172 

Davis, Erik 23-4, 48, 109 
Deleuze, Gilles 11-15, 88, 90, 135, 191 
Dionysos 16, 197, 198 
Dogon egg 192 

Durkheim, EmUe 36, 39, 64, 177 

eclipse 1-3, 8, 190 
ecology 190, 208-10 
Einstein, Albert 31 

dan vital 33 see also creative tendency 

Embarcadero Freeway 125 

empire 18, 22, 85-9, 93-4 

energy 34, 48-9, 211 

entropy 18, 144, 150, 156 

Erasmus 16, 85 


of balking 20, 37, 92, 125, 135 
humanist 32, 155 
and ontology 14, 17-19, 27, 129 
and openness 60, 69, 167 
posthumanist 75, 164, 167 
evil 119, 182, 184 
evolution 33-6, 38, 44, 46, 148 
evolutionary sublime 53 

factitious unity 79-80, 140 
Flash Gordon 82 
formalism (Russian) 27 
Foucault, Michel 18, 31 
Freud, Sigmund 30, 39, 191 
Friends of God 197-8 

Gernsback, Hugo 5-6 
GUgamesh 5, 171 

gnosis/gnosticism 24, 28, 107-10, 173, 
177, 178, 188-9 
Goodman, Nelson 131, 166 
Guattari, Felix 135 

232 Index 

Hamlet 77 

Hayles, Katherine N. 22-3, 48 
Heidegger, Martin 32, 97, 119 
Heraclitus 12 
hermeticism 191-2 
Herodotus 1-2 
hero(ism) 81-3, 155, 164-5 
hesitation 37, 92 
has me see as not 
Hume, David 181 
hymenoptera 36, 39 

I Ching 65, 116, 128-9, 133 
idios kosmos and koines kosmos 12, 25, 42, 
177, 206 

imagined communities 46 
immortality 5, 163, 200 

and biology 53, 65 
culture 24 
universe as 177 

instinct see also war-instinct (under war) 
and intellect 33, 36-41, 44 
virtual 40, 46 

intuition 33, 37, 54, 79-80, 109 
Irigaray, Luce 28 
iron cage 18 

Jameson, Fredric 16, 21, 115 
John Carter 82 
Joyce, James 14, 115, 210 
Jung, Carl 14, 117 

Kafka, Franz 18, 102 
Kant, Immanuel 10, 184-5 
Kepler, Johannes 6-7 
klesis see vocation 
Koyre, Alexandre 7 

Lash, Scott 21, 24 
law (as principle) 91-6, 100, 193 
League of Nations 31, 73 
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm 184 
Lem, Stanislaw 21, 205, 207 
Levi-Strauss, Claude 187 
love 19, 28, 44, 50, 107, 140-1, 158, 199, 
201, 211 see also caritas 
Lucretius 6 

Lyotard, Jean-Fran(;ois 32 

magic 7, 39, 105 
McKee, Gabriel 20, 23-4, 170 
Malinowski, Bronislaw 39 
Mann, Thomas 31 
Margulis, Lynn 44, 53 
Marx, Karl 18, 94, 97 
Mayr, Otto 32 
Meillassoux, Quentin, 181 

as anamnesia 165, 172 
artificial 83, 156 
mechanization of 13, 32-3, 79 
metafiction 27-8, 103-4, 124, 176 
Modern Electrics 5 
morality (closed vs open) 44-50, 55, 
57-8, 90, 94, 100-1, 152, 162, 

More, Thomas 5 
mortality 26, 38-9, 96, 163, 202 
Mullarkey, John 15, 59 
Murphys Law 39 

Nazism 35, 49, 114-20, 126-31 
Newton, Isaac 7 
Nietzsche, Friedrich 88 

ontology 14, 92, 108, 124, 134, 164, 189, 
191, 206 see also ethics 

panopticism 18 

Parsifal (Wagner) 187-9 

Pascal, Blaise 169, 184-5 

Pasolini, Pier Paolo 94 

Peguy, Charles 30-1 

pharmakon 183-6, 191, 198 

Pike, James (Bishop) 16, 85 

Plato 5, 9, 109 

Poe, Edgar Allan 5 

posthumanism 22, 48, 53, 91, 164 

postmodernism 21-3, 27 

prediction 1-2, 6, 8, 67, 70-1, 77, 149 

Prigogine, Ilya 15 

process philosophy 11-12, 13, 117, 206 
Pythagoras 5 


artificial 61, 76-81, 144, 175 
breakdown of 12 

reality fields 134-5, 165, 205-6, 209 



and the ‘tyranny of the concrete’ 1 16, 

recursion 33, 195-6, 202 
reduplicative paramnesia 186-91 
remnant 99-103, 126, 174 
resurrection 88, 95-7, 108, 142, 166 
Rickels, Laurence 22, 26 
robots see androids 
Rossi, Paolo 7, 10-11 
Rossi, Umberto 19, 24-5, 42, 120 
Roth, Philip 1 14 
Russell, Bertrand 8, 15, 52 

Saint Paul 16, 19, 24, 52, 85-111, 158, 
169, 191 

Salvator salvandus 138, 173-8, 184, 186 

Santayana, George 129 

Scholes, Robert 27 

Science Fiction Studies 31 

scientifiction 5 

Shelley, Mary 5 

Simondon, Gilbert 32, 135, 173 
Sisyphus 162-3 
Sophia (Wisdom) 16, 199-201 
Sorel, Georges 30-1 
Spinoza, Baruch de 172 
SS {Schutzstaffel) 19-20 
Suvin, Darko 5, 16, 21, 106, 166 
Swift, Jonathan 5 

Thales 1-2, 4, 8-9 
theodicy 22 

Tibetan Book of the Dead, The see Bardo 

transubstantiation 24, 166, 188 
United Nations Educational, Scientific 

and Cultural Organization 
(UNESCO) 31 

universal and particular 49, 90-1, 93, 

Valery, Paul 31 
Verne, Jules 5 

2-3-74 in general 16, 130, 170-2, 179, 
185, 195, 209 

of ancient Rome 18, 85-87, 110-11, 
187-8, 190 

of lift operators 41, 172, 186 
pink beam of light 16, 170, 176-8, 


vocation 55, 97-9, 140, 142 
Voltaire 5 


civil war 77, 120 
First World War 30-1, 38 
in general 2-3, 16, 17, 31 
nuclear 35, 63, 70, 72, 152 
Second World War 35, 63, 114, 116, 

war-instinct 34-5, 43, 47, 59, 67, 73, 
164, 197 
Weber, Max 18 
Wells, H. G. 5 

Whitehead, Alfred North 14, 109, 206 
Wilson, William 6 
Wilson, Woodrow 31 
wonder (as beginning of philosophy) 
9-11, 13 

wu (emptiness) 127 
Xenophanes 5, 192